<![CDATA[NBC 6 South Florida - South Florida News - Cuba Crossroad]]>Copyright 2019http://www.nbcmiami.com/news/localen-usMon, 17 Jun 2019 09:21:46 -0400Mon, 17 Jun 2019 09:21:46 -0400NBC Local Integrated Media<![CDATA[Trump Administration Halts Cruises to Cuba Under New Rules]]>Tue, 04 Jun 2019 18:53:07 -0400https://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/GettyImages-516871464.jpg

The Trump administration on Tuesday ended the most popular forms of U.S. travel to Cuba, banning cruise ships and a heavily used category of educational travel in an attempt to cut off cash to the island's communist government.

Cruise travel from the U.S. to Cuba began in May 2016 during President Barack Obama's opening with the island. It has become the most popular form of U.S. leisure travel to the island, bringing 142,721 people in the first four months of the year, a more than 300% increase over the same period last year. For travelers confused about the thicket of federal regulations governing travel to Cuba, cruises offered a simple, one-stop, guaranteed-legal way to travel.

That now appears to be over.

"Cruise ships as well as recreational and pleasure vessels are prohibited from departing the U.S. on temporary sojourn to Cuba effective tomorrow," the Commerce Department said in a statement to The Associated Press.

The new restrictions are part of a broader effort by the administration of President Donald Trump to roll back the Obama-era efforts to restore normal relations between the United States and Cuba, which drew sharp criticism from the more hardline elements of the Cuban-American community and their allies in Congress.

Treasury said the sanctions would take effect on Wednesday after they are published in the Federal Register.

U.S. national security adviser John Bolton, who declared Cuba part of a "troika of tyranny " along with Nicaragua and Venezuela as he outlined plans for sanctions in November, said the new policy is intended to deny the Cuban government a vital source of revenue.

"The Administration has advanced the President's Cuba policy by ending 'veiled tourism' to Cuba and imposing restrictions on vessels," Bolton said on Twitter. "We will continue to take actions to restrict the Cuban regime's access to U.S. dollars."

The Cuban government imposed food rationing last month as a result of tightened U.S. sanctions and a drop in subsidized oil and other aid from Venezuela. For the Cuban government, cruise travel generated many millions of dollars a year in docking fees and payments for on-shore excursions, although those figures were never made public. Cuba also has become the most-requested destination for many South Florida-based cruise lines.

"The Trump administration deserves tremendous credit for holding accountable the Cuban regime," Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio said. "The United States must use all tools available under U.S. law to counter the Cuban regime's deceitful activities to undermine U.S. policy."

The new restrictions take effect Wednesday, but the government said it will allow anyone who has already paid for the trip to go ahead with it. But the process going forward for passengers isn't clear.

Cruise companies appeared to be caught off guard, with several, including Norwegian Cruise Lines and Royal Caribbean, urging ticketed passengers to be patient in response to queries on social media.

Finally, more than nine hours after the Treasury announcement, Royal Caribbean said it was canceling the Cuba stops on its June 5 and 6 cruises and would issue further guidance on future trips as soon as it was practical.

"We expect to know more within the next 24 hours and will communicate any changes as soon as we are able. In the meantime, we are adjusting the itineraries of our June 5 and June 6 sailings, which will no longer stop in Cuba. We are communicating with our guests about those changes," Royal Caribbean said in a notice posted to its website.

Cruise lines carrying passengers booked before Tuesday had been hoping that they could request specific federal permits to complete their trips to Cuba, said Pedro Freyre, a Miami-based attorney who represents Carnival and three other major cruise lines.

"For now, it's prohibited unless the cruise lines requests a specific license," Freyre said. He said cruise lines had been trying to determine "if there's any opening there to at least complete trips that have been booked and passengers that have made travel plans."

Norwegian Cruise Line said in a statement that it was scrutinizing the new rules and consulting with lawyers and trade experts.

"We are closely monitoring these recent developments and any resulting impact to cruise travel to Cuba," Norwegian Cruise Line said in a statement. "We will communicate to our guests and travel partners as additional information becomes available."

Shore excursions from cruise ships tend to be organized by the cruise lines in cooperation with Cuban government tour agency Havanatur. A smaller number hire private tour guides or drivers of restored classic cars who wait outside Havana's cruise docks.

"This affects all of us," said William Mártinez, 58, a Cuban-born American who lived in Florida for 46 years but returned five years ago to drive a classic car for tourists. "It's inhuman, the sanctions that they're putting on Cuba."

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said the measures are a response to what it calls Cuba's "destabilizing role" in the Western Hemisphere, including support for the government of President Nicolas Maduro in Venezuela.

"This administration has made a strategic decision to reverse the loosening of sanctions and other restrictions on the Cuban regime," Mnuchin said. "These actions will help to keep U.S. dollars out of the hands of Cuban military, intelligence, and security services."

Along with the cruise ships, the U.S. will also now ban most private planes and boats from stopping in the island.

Cruises have become more popular than flights for leisure travelers to Cuba — nearly 30,000 more came by cruise ship than flights this year. The figures exclude Cuban-born Americans visiting family on the island.

"I've been dying to come to Cuba forever, to see the cars, the buildings," said Maria Garcia, a 46-year-old teacher from Puerto Rico who arrived in Havana Tuesday morning on a Norwegian cruise line. "I could do it with this cruise ... Trump needs to understand that people should come to this country, to enjoy and get to know its culture, just like we would do in any other part of the world."

Commercial airline flights appear to be unaffected by the new measures and travel for university groups, academic research, journalism and professional meetings will continue to be allowed.

Collin Laverty, head of Cuba Educational Travel, one of the largest Cuba travel companies in the U.S., called the new measures "political grandstanding aimed at Florida in the run up to the 2020 elections."

"It's also terrible for U.S. companies that are providing employment and paying taxes in the US and creating an economic footprint on the island," he said.

Associated Press writers Andrea Rodriguez, Adriana Gomez-Licon and Ben Fox also contributed to this report.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC 6 South Florida

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Trump Administration Symbolically Tightens Embargo on Cuba]]>Mon, 04 Mar 2019 14:50:19 -0400https://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/cuba-flag-GettyImages-481396786.jpg

The Trump administration announced Monday that it is symbolically tightening the six-decade trade embargo on Cuba by allowing lawsuits against Cuban companies using properties confiscated after its 1959 revolution.

The announcement limits lawsuits to a list of about 200 Cuban businesses and government agencies that are already subject to special U.S. sanctions because they are tied to the Cuban military and intelligence ministries. Virtually none of the businesses have any links to the U.S. legal or financial systems, meaning the ability to sue is unlikely to have any effect on the Cuban economy or foreign businesses that work with the socialist government.

Some of the businesses on the list are hotels operated as joint ventures with foreign companies, but the Trump administration measure does not allow the foreign companies themselves to be sued, a State Department official told reporters on condition of anonymity.

Every president since Bill Clinton has suspended a section of the 1996 Helms-Burton act that would allow such lawsuits because they would snarl companies from U.S.-allied countries in years of complicated litigation that could prompt international trade claims against the United States.

Along with carving out a small exception to Title III of the act, the Trump administration said it would only be suspended for 30 days, raising the prospect of more biting sanctions in the future.

The Cuban government called that an "unacceptable threat against the world."

"I strongly reject the State Department's announcement to authorize lawsuits under Title III of the Helms-Burton act, against a list of Cuban companies arbitrarily sanctioned by the Trump administration," Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez said on Twitter.

Major investors in Cuba include British tobacco giant Imperial Brands, which runs a joint venture with the Cuban government making premium cigars; Spanish hoteliers Iberostar and Melia, who run dozens of hotels across the island; and French beverage-maker Pernod-Ricard, which makes Havana Club rum with a Cuban state distiller.

"It is not intended to affect European companies that are currently doing business in Cub," the State Department official said. "You could not sue a European or Japanese partner in a joint venture."

Attorneys for Americans with claims on confiscated properties said the Trump decision to announce an extremely limited partial lifting of Title III of the Helms-Burton act may itself be illegal because it violates their clients' rights to sue.

"If this is the first step in a strategic effort that will lead to full enforcement of US law, it may be a good first step," said attorney Jason Poblete, who represents a group of Americans whose property was confiscated. "However, partial waivers are not mentioned in the statute and it raises potential equal protection and maybe other constitutional questions."

The measure is being presented as retaliation for Cuba's support of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, who the U.S. is trying to oust in favor of opposition leader Juan Guaido.

"Today expect the United States to take the first in a series of steps to hold the regime in #Cuba accountable for its 60 years of crimes & illegality which includes its support for the murderous #MaduroCrimeFamily," Florida Sen. Marco Rubio wrote on Twitter. "Justice is coming. And more to come."

After nearly 60 years of trade embargo, the Cuban economy is in a period of consistently low growth of about 1 percent a year, with foreign investment at roughly $2 billion, far below what it needs to spur more prosperity.

But tourism, remittances and subsidized oil from Venezuela have allowed the government to maintain basic services and a degree of stability that appears unshaken by the Trump administration's recent moves against Cuba and its major remaining allies in Latin America — Venezuela and Nicaragua.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC 6 South Florida

Photo Credit: Bloomberg via Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[MLB, Union, Cuba Reach Deal for Players to Sign]]>Thu, 20 Dec 2018 00:37:09 -0400https://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/Rays-Cuba-baseball.jpg

Major League Baseball, its players' association and the Cuban Baseball Federation reached an agreement that will allow players from the island to sign big league contracts without defecting, an effort to eliminate the dangerous trafficking that had gone on for decades.

The agreement, which runs through Oct. 31, 2021, allows Cubans to sign under rules similar to those for players under contract to clubs in Japan, South Korea and Taiwan.

"For years, Major League Baseball has been seeking to end the trafficking of baseball players from Cuba by criminal organizations by creating a safe and legal alternative for those players to sign with major league clubs," baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred said in a statement Wednesday. "We believe that this agreement accomplishes that objective and will allow the next generation of Cuban players to pursue their dream without enduring many of the hardships experienced by current and former Cuban players who have played Major League Baseball."

Depending on the quality of future players, the agreement could mean millions of dollars in future income for the cash-poor Cuban federation, which has seen the quality of players and facilities decline in recent years as talent went overseas.

The agreement marks a step forward in U.S.-Cuba relations during a time of tensions between Cuba and the Trump administration, which has pledged to undo President Barack Obama's 2014 opening with the island. MLB said the deal was allowed by a general license issued by the U.S. Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control in 2016 that was not specific to baseball.

"Baseball has always been a bridge between our two nations, facilitating people-to-people connections and larger agreements that have brought our countries closer together," said Sen. Patrick Leahy, a Vermont Democrat.

Any disputes between MLB and the Cuban federation are subject to resolution by the International Chamber of Commerce.

"Establishing a safe, legal process for entry to our system is the most important step we can take to ending the exploitation and endangerment of Cuban players who pursue careers in Major League Baseball," union head Tony Clark said in a statement. "The safety and well-being of these young men remains our primary concern."

Only players under contract to the Cuban federation are covered by the agreement, and the Cuban federation agreed to release all players 25 and older with at least six years of professional experience. They would be classified as international professionals under MLB's labor contract with the players' association and not subject to international amateur signing bonus pools.

The Cuban federation may at its discretion release younger players to sign minor league contracts with MLB organizations.

A player can decide whether he wants a registered MLBPA agent to negotiate a major league contract. He may use a representative other than an agent to negotiate a minor league deal.

U.S. Sen. Jeff Flake, an Arizona Republic, called it a "homerun agreement," tweeting "This deal will make life better for Cuban baseball players, who will no longer have to risk unsafe passage to the U.S."

Players have told stories of harrowing crossings on rafts and rickety boats — some later challenged as exaggerations.

"Today is a day that I am extremely happy," said a statement from Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder Yasiel Puig, who was smuggled out of Cuba by traffickers linked to a Mexican drug gang, according to court testimony. "To know future Cuban players will not have to go through what we went through makes me so happy."

Cuban-born players have a long history in the major leaguers, led by Minnie Minoso with nine All-Star selections, Tony Oliva with eighth and Camilo Pascual and Tony Perez with seven each. And while Puig, Orlando and Livan Hernandez, Aroldis Chapman and others became stars in recent decades, others have been big-money busts. Outfielder Rusney Castillo agreed to a $72.5 million, seven-year contract with Boston in 2014 and has appeared in just 99 games with the Red Sox while playing 347 in the minor leagues.

"Words cannot fully express my heartfelt joy," Chicago White Sox All-Star first baseman Jose Abreu said in a statement. "Dealing with the exploitation of smugglers and unscrupulous agencies will finally come to an end for the Cuban baseball player. To this date, I am still harassed."

Any players allowed to sign with big league clubs can do so without leaving Cuba, and the fee paid by the signing team will be covered by the same rules as in MLB's other posting systems: 20 percent of the first $25 million of a major league contract, 17.5 percent of the next $25 million and 15 percent of any amount over $50 million. There will be a supplemental fee of 15 percent of any earned bonuses, salary escalators and exercised options.

For minor league contracts, the fee will be 25 percent of the signing bonus, and there will be a supplemental fee for any foreign professionals who at first agree to minor league deals that include major league terms that later come into force.

A former Cuban federation player under contract to a MLB club may return to Cuba during the offseason. He can play in Cuba during the offseason only with his MLB club's consent.

The departure of young Cuban players to MLB has slowed since limits were placed on signing bonuses for international amateurs starting July 2, 2017.

For 2017-18, outfielder Julio Pablo Martinez got $2.8 million from Texas, and the only other signing bonus over $300,000 for a Cuban-born amateur was $750,000 for shortstop Eddy Diaz (Colorado).

In the current signing period that started July 2, the largest signing bonus for a Cuban-born amateur has been $975,000 for outfielder Jairo Pomares with San Francisco.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC 6 South Florida

Photo Credit: Rebecca Blackwell/AP, File ]]>
<![CDATA[Timeline: Cuba - US Relations]]>Thu, 15 Jun 2017 11:04:13 -0400https://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/raul-castro-obama-futuro-cuba-eeuu.jpg

    Photo Credit: Getty Images
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    <![CDATA[Cuba Eliminates Gay Marriage Language From New Constitution]]>Wed, 19 Dec 2018 10:09:02 -0400https://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/gay+rights+stock+pride+flag.jpg

    Cuba's government said Tuesday that language promoting the legalization of gay marriage will be removed from the draft of a new constitution after widespread popular rejection of the idea.

    Gay rights advocates had proposed eliminating the description of marriage as a union of a man and woman, changing it to the union of "two people ... with absolutely equal rights and obligations."

    That change drew protests from evangelical churches and ordinary citizens in months of public meetings on the new constitution.

    Cuba's National Assembly announced on Twitter that a powerful commission responsible for revising the constitution has proposed eliminating the language from the new charter "as a way of respecting all opinions."

    The constitution would instead be silent on the issue, leaving open the possibility of a future legalization without specifically promoting it.

    The constitutional commission is headed by Communist Party head and former president Raul Castro.

    His daughter, Mariela Castro, is a lawmaker known as Cuba's highest-profile advocate for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual rights. Her advocacy has helped rehabilitate Cuba's international image on LGBTQ rights after the Castro-led communist government sent gay men to work camps in the 1960s. Widespread persecution continued through the 1970s.

    While Havana and some other Cuban cities have flourishing gay communities, anti-homosexual attitudes remain deeply rooted among much of the population. Cubans who ordinarily shy from open criticism of the government spoke out in large numbers against the proposed constitutional Article 68 promoting gay marriage during public consultations on the draft constitution throughout the year.

    Cuba's rapidly growing evangelical churches also staked out positions against the article, increasing pressure on a government unused to public pushback.

    The new charter is expected to be offered for approval at a public referendum in early 2019.

    The dropping of the gay marriage language is the third dramatic reversal this month for a government that for decades has issued most laws and regulations with little public debate or insight into the working of the ruling Communist Party.

    The government last week eliminated some of the most-disliked sections of new restrictions on entrepreneurs that were met with widespread public criticism. And tough new limits on artistic expression were delayed after protests and complaints from Cuban artists.

    The new laws were announced in July, three months after President Miguel Diaz-Canel took office, and generated bitter complaints from entrepreneurs and artists. The measures included limits on the number of business licenses per household and barred more than 50 seats at private restaurants. They also granted a corps of cultural "inspectors" the power to immediately close any art exhibition or performance found to violate Cuba's socialist revolutionary values.

    On Dec. 4, the country's vice minister of culture said the art regulation would be delayed and the inspectors' power would be limited to making recommendations to higher-ranking cultural officials. In addition, they will not be able to inspect any studio or home that is not open to the public.

    The next day, the government eliminated the limits on restaurant tables and business licenses, along with new taxes and financial requirements for entrepreneurs.

    The elimination of gay marriage appears to be the only major change to the draft constitution.

    State media said that Cubans had made 192,408 comments on Article 68, with the majority asking to eliminate it.

    Commenters also asked the commission to eliminate presidential term and age limits and allow direct presidential elections but the draft charter maintains the two-term limit, maximum age of 65, and the selection of the president by the National Assembly.

    Francisco Rodriguez, a Communist Party member and gay blogger known as "Paquito de Cuba," said simply eliminating any reference to the participants in a marriage is an acceptable compromise that will focus gay activists on campaigning for changes in the national legal code that would allow gay marriage.

    "This was a side step," he said. "It's a solution. Not 'between a man and a woman' or 'between two people.' Now is when it all begins."

    Copyright Associated Press / NBC 6 South Florida

    Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
    <![CDATA[Cuba Health Mystery: Diplomats Had Inner-Ear Damage Early On]]>Wed, 12 Dec 2018 22:59:23 -0400https://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/US-embassy-cuba.jpg

    American diplomats affected by mysterious health incidents in Cuba showed damage in the inner ear shortly after they complained of weird noises and sensations, according to their earliest medical exams, publicized Wednesday.

    The detailed findings were published in a medical journal nearly two years after what the U.S. calls "health attacks" began — and they shed no new light on a possible culprit.

    "What caused it, who did it, why it was done — we don't know any of those things," said Dr. Michael Hoffer of the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, who led the exams.

    The U.S. says since late 2016, 26 people associated with the embassy in Havana suffered problems that include dizziness, ear pain and ringing, and cognitive problems such as difficulty thinking — a health mystery that has damaged U.S.-Cuba relations.

    The Miami researchers examined 25 of those people, who reported hearing a piercing noise or experiencing a sensation of pressure before their symptoms began. The patients failed a variety of tests that detect inner-ear problems associated with balance, what's called the vestibular system — although there were no pre-symptom medical records to compare.

    Testing of 10 other people who were in the same building at the time of the incidents found they were fine, Hoffer reported in the journal Laryngoscope Investigative Otolaryngology. Hoffer also traveled to Cuba to check 100 other Americans stationed there, who also turned out to be healthy.

    Those inner-ear balance problems have been central to the government's ongoing health investigation. And earlier this year, a team of doctors at the University of Pennsylvania who also examined many of these patients, but months later, reported they suffered a concussion-like brain injury, despite no blow to the head.

    In a brief interview with The Associated Press, Hoffer said the two studies aren't contradictory, but they have different findings because patients were tested at different times and in different ways.

    "Is the brain affected from the ear? Is the brain affected directly? We don't know yet," Hoffer said at Wednesday's news conference.

    For doctors, Wednesday's paper adds specifics about the pattern of damage, abnormalities in structures involved with sensing gravity and acceleration, said Dr. Maura Cosetti of the New York Eye and Ear Infirmary of Mount Sinai. She isn't involved with research related to the Cuba incidents.

    "This provides an important step in creating a picture of the injury that people sustained," she said. She added that often people with long-term balance problems also report a "brain fog."

    Cuba has adamantly denied any involvement, and even doubts there were attacks.

    "There's no evidence that can prove that something occurred in Cuba that could have damaged the health situation of a few U.S. diplomats," Carlos Fernandez de Cossio, Cuba's director-general of U.S. affairs, said Wednesday.

    The U.S. has not said what caused the incidents, although initial speculation centered on some type of sonic attack. The AP has reported that an interim FBI report last January found no evidence that sound waves could have caused the damage.

    Copyright Associated Press / NBC 6 South Florida

    Photo Credit: Desmond Boylan/AP (File)]]>
    <![CDATA[Elian González Joins Twitter On His 25th Birthday]]>Fri, 07 Dec 2018 14:55:45 -0400https://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/edt-AP100405138767.jpg

    Elian González Brotóns, the man who was once at the center of an international custody battle which involved the U.S. and Cuban governments, has joined Twitter.

    González Brotóns posted his first tweet on Thursday, the same day Cuba announced that they would be allowing its citizens full internet access for mobile phones. His Twitter handle, @BrotonsElian, appears to pay tribute to his deceased mother, Elizabeth Brotóns, who drowned in 2000 while fleeing Cuba with González.

    In his tweet, he says he joined Twitter on his 25th birthday. He goes on to thank Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel for wishing him well on his birthday, and will continue to support him. He then says that his goal is to not disappoint “Cubans with dignity.”

    On Thursday, President Díaz-Canel wished González Brotóns a happy birthday on Twitter, and referred to him as the son and grandson of “Cubans with dignity,” and all of Cuba. The tweet went on to say that the battle for his freedom, led by Cuban leader Fidel Castro, showed how they can overcome challenges together.

    In 2000, González Brotóns was just shy of his sixth birthday when the small boat carrying him, his mother and a dozen others went down near Florida. González Brotóns’s mother was among those who perished. Elian was found floating in an inner tube and rescued by a fisherman who then turned the small boy over to U.S. officials.

    González Brotóns would then become the center of a bitter custody battle between his relatives in Miami who wished to keep him in the United States and his father, Juan Miguel González, who wanted him returned to Cuba. The international custody battle became a hot button issue during the 2000 U.S. presidential campaign and a central focus for the U.S. and Cuban governments.

    The months-long saga culminated with a dramatic raid on the Miami house, where U.S. federal agents retrieved Gonzalez at gunpoint in the early morning hours and he was flown back to the island in June of 2000, where he rejoined his father.

    The iconic photo of that historic moment, taken by Alan Diaz for The Associated Press, won the 2001 Pulitzer Prize for Breaking News Photography.

    The Associated Press contributed to this report.

    Photo Credit: AP
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    <![CDATA[Cuba to Begin Full Internet Access for Mobile Phones]]>Wed, 05 Dec 2018 00:41:32 -0400https://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/cubansGettyImages-586150754.jpg

    Cuba announced Tuesday night that its citizens will be offered full internet access for mobile phones beginning this week, becoming one of the last nations to offer such service.

    Mayra Arevich, president of the Cuban state telecom monopoly ETECSA, went on national television to say Cubans can begin contracting 3G service for the first time Thursday.

    Until now, Cubans have had access only to state-run email accounts on their phones.

    The Cuban government has been building a 3G network in cities across the island and some tourists, Cuban government officials and foreign businesspeople have had access to it for several years.

    The communist-governed island has one of the world's lowest rates of internet use but that has been expanding rapidly since Presidents Barack Obama and Raul Castro declared detente in 2014. Expansion has not slowed with President Donald Trump's partial rollback of relations.

    Cuba authorized home internet in 2017 and hundreds of public Wi-Fi connection points have opened in parks and plazas around the country.

    The new service will cost about 10 cents per megabyte, with packages ranging from 600 megabytes for about $7 to four gigabytes for about $30.

    Those prices are roughly in line with global standards but still out of reach for many Cubans who subsist on state salaries of about $30 a month.

    Cuba ran a fiber-optic connection to Venezuela in 2012, allowing the island to shift from slow and costly satellite links. It then began the slow process of allowing citizens to get online.

    The government opened state-run internet cafes in 2013, joined by Wi-Fi sites two years later. The number of sites has grown to more than 800.

    The Cuban internet is mostly uncensored but the government blocks a small number of sites like the U.S.-funded Radio and Television Marti networks and others that advocate for systematic change on the island.

    ETECSA vice president Tania Velázquez said the new service would come online in stages from Thursday through Saturday to avoid the congestion that struck the mobile network during a series of heavily criticized tests this year. 

    Copyright Associated Press / NBC 6 South Florida

    Photo Credit: Education Images/UIG via Getty Images]]>
    <![CDATA[Militant Cuban Exile Luis Posada Carriles Dies at 90]]>Wed, 23 May 2018 09:51:19 -0400https://media.nbcmiami.com/images/173*120/GettyImages-460723172.jpg

    A lawyer for Luis Posada Carriles says the militant Cuban exile has died at a South Florida care home for elderly veterans.

    Lawyer Arturo Hernandez says the 90-year-old Posada Carriles died Wednesday.

    Posada Carriles was among a core group of Cuban exiles trained by the CIA in the early 1960s in a failed effort to overthrow Fidel Castro's fledgling communist government.

    He was later suspected of organizing the 1976 bombing of a Cuban jetliner that killed 73, as well as a string of Havana hotel bombings in 1997.

    He was acquitted in 2011 by a federal jury in El Paso, Texas, of lying to U.S. officials about his role in the Havana bombings to win political asylum.

    The lawyer says Posada was diagnosed with throat cancer about five years ago.

    Copyright Associated Press / NBC 6 South Florida

    Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
    <![CDATA[Raul Castro Blasts Trump, U.S., as He Steps Down in Cuba]]>Thu, 19 Apr 2018 23:33:15 -0400https://media.nbcmiami.com/images/180*120/GettyImages-516833994.jpg

    In his last speech to the National Assembly as president of Cuba, Raul Castro took sharp aim at the United States.

    “On December 17th of 2014, together with then President Barack Obama, we began a process of finding solutions and cooperation between both nations, although the idea of undermining the Cuban revolution never ceased. Now, there has been a deliberate regression -- reaching its peak with the insulting memo of June 2017 given by President Trump and backed by extreme right-wing Florida lawmakers," Castro said in his speech.

    He also blasted the expulsion of Cuban personnel in Washington and the removal of U.S. diplomats from Cuba.

    Regarding Cuba’s human rights record, he said: “We don’t need lessons from the United States. We can fix our own problems.”

    Castro also made reference to President Trump’s proposed wall, calling U.S. policy towards immigrants “racist.”

    He said Cuba maintains its solidarity with Syria. As for Russia, Castro said that Cuba will never be ungrateful or forget that Russia was there for the country during its most difficult period.

    Castro spoke Thursday after Miguel Diaz-Canel was named the new president of Cuba — the first person not named Castro to hold that title since 1959.

    Diaz-Canel was the country’s first vice president and a long-time protégé of Raul Castro, the leader of the communist nation since 2008, when he took over from the longtime leader, his brother Fidel. The 57-year-old was hand-picked in an effort to ensure the continuation of one of the globe’s last surviving communist states.

    The presidential result was essentially clear since Cuba’s national assembly approves all executive branch proposals by margins of 95 percent or higher. 603 of the assembly's 604 members voted for Diaz-Canel, with the new president being the only person not to cast a vote.

    Diaz-Canel is known to Cubans in the central province of Villa Clara as a modest-living, hard-working member of the party that has been in control for generations. He is an electrical engineer who previously served as the minister of education.

    “They’ve put in a nondescript civilian who doesn’t belong to the military, which is very important, and doesn’t have any control over any of the businesses,” said Jim Cason, a former U.S. diplomat to Cuba. “He’s an apparatchik so I think it’s a succession.”

    Raul Castro will still be the most powerful person in Cuba for the time being as he will continue to be the leader of the Communist Party on the island.

    “You can look at it as a generational transition, but it’s not a real transition to something new and different in Cuba,” Cason said.

    Some of the issues Diaz-Canel will face include a stagnant economy at home, with growing disenchantment on the island with slow market reforms Castro introduced in 2011.

    The country is also receiving fewer dollars from American tourists, as President Donald Trump has reinforced some restrictions eased under the administration of former President Barack Obama.

    Photo Credit: Getty Images, File]]>
    <![CDATA[Diaz-Canel Nominated to Replace Raul Castro as Cuban Leader]]>Wed, 18 Apr 2018 13:00:32 -0400https://media.nbcmiami.com/images/180*120/GettyImages-516833994.jpg

    The Cuban government has nominated First Vice President Miguel Mario Diaz-Canel Bermudez as the sole candidate for president, guaranteeing that the 57-year-old engineer will succeed Raul Castro.

    Wednesday's announcement confirms the long-held expectation that Diaz-Canel would take over from Castro in a transition meant to ensure that the country's single-party system outlasts the aging revolutionaries who created it.

    The nomination must be now approved by the 604 delegates attending the National Assembly, which always approves nominations with total or near-total unanimity. 

    Wednesday launched the daylong process of selecting Castro's successor as president of Cuba, the centerpiece of an effort to ensure that the country's single-party system outlasts the aging revolutionaries who created it.

    State media said the government would announce Castro's replacement on Thursday, installing someone from outside the Castro family in the country's highest government office for the first time in nearly six decades.

    Castro entered the National Assembly just after 9 a.m. accompanied by a broadly smiling Diaz-Canel. The assembly members were sworn in, then voted for the president and vice president of the legislative body itself.

    As in Cuba's legislative elections, all of the leaders being voted in on Wednesday are selected by a government-appointed commission. Ballots offer only the option of approving or disapproving the official candidate. Candidates generally receive more than 90 percent of the votes in their favor.

    The National Assembly in the past has generally met and selected the president in one day. Its votes are nearly always unanimous and seen as reflecting the will of the country's top leadership.

    The 86-year-old Castro is stepping down after two five-year terms. His brother Fidel was prime minister and president from 1959 until he fell ill in 2006. Although Osvaldo Dorticos was president of Cuba during Fidel Castro's time as prime minister, he was considered a figurehead beside the man who led Cuba's revolution, forged its single-party socialist system and ruled by fiat.

    Diaz-Canel, 57, has long been seen as the overwhelming favorite to replace Castro, and a series of high-profile appearances on state-run television in recent days have done nothing to change that.

    For most Cubans, the biggest concern is the creaking economy, as Castro’s government has implemented only a fraction of its planned market reforms, and many Cubans say they're struggling to get by.

    Copyright Associated Press / NBC 6 South Florida

    Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
    <![CDATA[Cuba to Start Transition From Raul Castro a Day Earlier]]>Mon, 16 Apr 2018 11:29:49 -0400https://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/CASTRO_AP_991259635660.jpg

    A legislative session that will see a historic political transition in Cuba is going to start one day earlier than expected.

    Cuban state media reported Monday that the government moved up the start of a meeting of the National Assembly in which President Raul Castro plans to step down and hand over the office to a younger successor.

    The session will now start Wednesday instead of Thursday.

    Website Cubadebate said the session was moved up to prepare for a "session of such importance."

    Castro is expected to pass the presidency to 57-year-old Vice President Miguel Diaz-Canel. Raul Castro took over from his brother Fidel in 2008 and the two have headed Cuba's government in one form or another since 1959.

    Raul Castro, 87, plans to remain head of Cuba's Communist Party, a position that leaves him with broad authority, including oversight of his replacement.

    Copyright Associated Press / NBC 6 South Florida

    Photo Credit: AP]]>
    <![CDATA[Raul Castro Leaving Cuba With New Freedoms, Deep Problems]]>Mon, 16 Apr 2018 06:50:11 -0400https://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/627466564-Raul-Castro-Presidency.jpg

    In 2008 Raul Castro took over a country where most people couldn't own computers or cellphones, leave without permission, run most types of private businesses or enter resort hotels.

    Castro set about re-engineering the system he had helped create and Cuba opened dramatically over his decade in office. But when Castro steps down as president Thursday he will leave his successor a host of problems that are deeper than on the day his brother Fidel formally handed over power.

    Cuba has nearly 600,000 private entrepreneurs, more than 5 million cellphones, a bustling real estate market and one of the world's fastest-growing airports. Foreign debt has been paid. Tourism numbers have more than doubled since Castro and President Barack Obama re-established diplomatic relations in 2015, making Cuba a destination for nearly 5 million visitors a year, despite a plunge in relations under the Trump administration.

    On the other side of the ledger, Cuba's Soviet-style command economy still employs three of every four Cuban workers but produces little. Private sector growth has been largely frozen. The average monthly state salary is $31 — so low that workers often live on stolen goods and handouts from relatives overseas. Foreign investment remains anemic. The island's infrastructure is falling deeper into disrepair. The break with Washington dashed dreams of detente with the U.S., and after two decades of getting Venezuelan subsidies totaling more than $6 billion a year, Cuba's patron has collapsed economically with no replacement in the wings.

    Castro's inability or unwillingness to fix Cuba's structural problems with deep and wide-ranging reforms has many wondering how a successor without Castro's founding father credentials will manage the country over the next five or 10 years.

    "People in Cuba really haven't processed yet what it means to have a government without Raul or Fidel leading it," said Yassel Padron Kunakbaeva, a prolific 27-year-old blogger who writes frequently from what he describes as a Marxist, revolutionary perspective. "We're entering unknown territory."

    Tens of thousands of highly educated professionals are abandoning the island each year, leaving Cuba with the combination of third-world economy and the demographics of a graying European nation. After a 2016 recession, Cuba said growth was 1.6 percent last year, although official accounts remain opaque and questioned by experts. The single-party government controls virtually all forms of expression and organization, with near-zero tolerance of public criticism or dissent. The mood on the street is pessimistic, with few expecting a better future anytime soon.

    "The political future of whoever takes over in April depends on the economic question," said Jose Raul Viera Linares, a former first deputy minister of foreign affairs. "It's the possibility for young people to dream, to design their own future. That's all based in the material wealth that this country is able to achieve."

    The greatest immediate challenge for Castro's expected successor — 57-year-old Vice President Miguel Diaz-Canel Bermudez — is unwinding a byzantine dual-currency system featuring one type of Cuban peso worth 4 cents and another that is nearly a dollar. The system was designed to insulate a state-run, egalitarian internal market using "national money" from trade with the outside world denominated in "convertible pesos."

    The barrier between the two worlds swiftly collapsed and the system has fostered big economic distortions. Inefficient state enterprises receive mammoth subsidies by obtaining expensive convertible pesos for the price of the cheaper "Cuban peso." The dual-currency system also allows private businesses to receive subsidized goods and services like water and electricity in Cuban pesos, then turn around and charge their relatively wealthy clients in convertible pesos at a significant profit.

    Castro called for elimination of the dual currencies from the beginning of his presidency, but never got around to it. In one of his final speeches last year he called once again for the system's urgent elimination, a process that many expect to start in Diaz-Canel's first year in power. Eliminating dual currency is widely seen as necessary for Cuba's economy to grow, but it carries risks of inflation and major disruption for inefficient state businesses whose subsidized balance sheets will finally become understandable when they are denominated in a single currency.

    Those state businesses gained new competitors as Castro expanded the space for capitalism in the Cuban economy by permitting private enterprise in dozens of fields ranging from agriculture to hospitality to construction.

    "We've risen up economically. The new possibilities have changed my life, of course," said Yanelis Garcia, a 44-year-old mother of three who saved money from raising pigs in her backyard to slowly build a prosperous six-room bed-and-breakfast and taxi business in the central city of Santa Clara. "I've always liked having my own business to be able to provide for my family. It's been really good."

    Cubans fill thousands of flights a year to Miami, Panama and Cancun, where they cram duffel bags with gym socks and Xboxes for the vibrant private sector and rising middle class. But last August, the Cuban government froze new licenses for private bed-and-breakfasts, restaurants and other popular businesses, leaving many Cubans questioning how their government envisions a path to prosperity.

    "We've seen necessary reforms and I think that in the future there will have to be more," said Norma Chiang, a 77-year-old state accountant and auditor. "Self-employment needs to be broadened, little things like bakeries or food stands that can be in the hands of individuals and not the state."

    Despite the image of Raul Castro as an all-powerful military strongman, many Cubans say back-and-forth moves and the overall slow pace of reform have shown the difficulty of modernizing a Soviet-era bureaucracy controlled by hundreds of thousands of civil servants who would be threatened by a transition into a market economy, a difficulty Castro's successor will also face.

    "No one dares to disobey Raul to his face. They quietly don't get things done and search for ways to cover their backs so no one can accuse them of not getting things done," Padron said.

    Cuba's next president also must find a way to make its economy grow while maintaining social stability and satisfying the millions of Cubans who depend on the state and a shrinking list of subsidized essentials sold in Cuban pesos for their survival. While Cuba sees Russia as one of its closest allies, Cuba's leaders are desperate to prevent the sort of shock transition to capitalism that marked the end of the Soviet Union.

    "I can't eat, dress myself and live on $20 a month," said Adela Arpajon, a 54-year-old accountant for the Communist Party. "I either eat or buy clothes. It's hard, but that's the way it is."

    Wariness of disruption is exacerbated by Cuba's increasing economic dependence on the Cuban emigres and exiles once seen by the Communist government as a threat to its survival.

    As part of his broader immigration reforms, Raul Castro changed Cuba's relationship with its diaspora by allowing Cubans to maintain their rights to own property and receive social benefits as long as they return once every two years. That change fueled the growth of a new class of Cubans who earn money overseas but invest at home and are responsible for hundreds of millions, if not billions, of dollars in small-scale investment on the island in recent years.

    More than 20,000 Cuban emigres have "repatriated" and regained their property rights since the emigration reforms, according to Cuban figures. Still, the flow of emigres back to Cuba is swamped by the outward flood of Cubans unleashed by Castro's elimination of the hated exit permit known as the "white card." According to U.S. Homeland Security statistics, the United States admitted 463,502 Cubans between 2006 and 2016, with tens of thousands more heading to countries such as Spain and Ecuador.

    "I don't think people have realized how momentous that is in terms of for the first time having circular migration," said Lisandro Perez, an expert on the Cuban diaspora at New York's John Jay College of Criminal Justice. "They take back things, they finance private restaurants. It's a totally different ballgame."

    Castro's successor will have to manage the delicate relationship with Cuba's prosperous exiles at a time when relations with the U.S. have dropped from an unprecedented high under President Barack Obama to a deep low under President Donald Trump.

    For Reinaldo Taladrid, a popular commentator on state television, tensions with the U.S. will serve as a brake on any reforms sought by Raul Castro's successor.

    "While there's a sense of a state of siege, there's an instinct of self-preservation that doesn't have anything to do with politics. It's the human instinct for self-preservation. You have the world's most powerful state, the most powerful government in the history of humanity that has regime change in Cuba as its official policy," Taladrid said. "While that's true this little, poor country's government will have a siege mentality, and it's logical to have it."

    Copyright Associated Press / NBC 6 South Florida

    Photo Credit: Joe Raedle/Getty Images, File]]>
    <![CDATA[US Makes Cuba Staffing Cuts Permanent After 'Health Attacks']]>Fri, 02 Mar 2018 17:36:53 -0400https://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/Cuba-US-embassy.jpg

    Citing mysterious "health attacks" in Havana, the United States said Friday it was making permanent its withdrawal of 60 percent of its diplomats from Cuba as investigations continue.

    Last October, the State Department ordered non-essential embassy personnel and the families of all staff to leave Havana, arguing the U.S. could not protect them from unexplained illnesses that have harmed at least 24 Americans. But by law, the department can only order diplomats to leave for six months before either sending them back or making the reductions permanent.

    The six months expire Sunday. So the department said it was setting in place a new, permanent staffing plan that maintains a lower level of roughly two-dozen people — "the minimum personnel necessary to perform core diplomatic and consular functions." The department also said that the embassy in Havana would operate as an "unaccompanied post," meaning diplomats posted there will not be allowed to have spouses or children live with them in the country.

    Secretary of State Rex Tillerson signed off on the permanent plan for reduced staffing out of concern for "the health, safety and well-being of U.S. government personnel and family members," the department said in a statement.

    "We still do not have definitive answers on the source or cause of the attacks, and an investigation into the attacks is ongoing," the department said.

    Cuba has repeatedly denied either involvement in or knowledge of any attacks, and has said its own investigation into the illnesses has turned up no evidence of deliberate action. The United States has not accused Cuba of such action but has said Havana holds responsibility nonetheless, arguing that such incidents could not have occurred on the small, communist-run island without the knowledge of Cuban officials.

    The mysterious case has sent U.S.-Cuba relations plummeting from what had been a high point when the two countries, estranged for a half-century, restored full diplomatic ties under President Barack Obama in 2015.

    In late 2016, U.S. Embassy personnel began seeking medical care for hearing loss and ear-ringing that they linked to weird noises or vibrations — initially leading investigators to suspect "sonic attacks."

    An interim FBI report disclosed by The Associated Press in early January said the investigation has uncovered no evidence that sound waves could have damaged the Americans' health. But Tillerson has said he's still convinced the diplomats were hit by deliberate, specific attacks targeting their health.

    Doctors treating the patients said in a study published last month that the sounds heard by diplomats might have been a byproduct of something else that might help explain the full symptom list: memory problems, impaired concentration, irritability, balance problems and dizziness. The study in the Journal of the American Medical Association said doctors still have no clear diagnosis of just what happened to trigger the mysterious health problems.

    The downsizing of the embassy staff — along with a travel warning the U.S. issued warning Americans to reconsider travel to the island — have had significant effects for Cuba's economy and for its citizens. With fewer employees on hand, the U.S. Embassy in Havana halted visa processing, forcing Cubans who wish to visit the United States to seek visas through U.S. embassies in other countries. The U.S. is also expected to fall far short of granting the 20,000 immigrant visas to Cubans that have been allotted annually for decades.

    Copyright Associated Press / NBC 6 South Florida

    Photo Credit: Desmond Boylan/AP, File]]>
    <![CDATA['Forever Cuban': Bacardi Launches Havana Club Rum Campaign]]>Wed, 03 Jan 2018 15:25:55 -0400https://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/010318+Havana+Club+rum.jpg

    A new advertising campaign from Bacardi is declaring Havana Club rum "Forever Cuban," even though it's no longer made on the island.

    The campaign, which launched last month, features a 60-second video that was written, produced and directed entirely by Cuban exiles in Miami. It features Cuban-American actor Raul Esparza, best-known for his roles on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit and Hannibal, and is available in both Spanish and English.

    In the video, Esparza recites the poem "Island Body," written for the campaign by Cuban-American poet Richard Blanco.

    "Forced to leave home, but home never leaves us, where exile takes us, we remain this body made of the red earth of our island," Esparza says. "Don't tell us we're not Cuban. Wherever the world spins us, home remains in us."

    The campaign was launched in advance of the 59th anniversary of the Cuban Revolution on Jan. 1, and evokes the history of Havana Club and the family that lost the distillery after the revolution.

    The Cuban government seized the Arechabala family businesses, including the Havana Club distillery, without compensation in 1960. Family members were jailed and later fled the country in exile, but were able to bring the rum recipe to the U.S. where it was given to Bacardi under an agreement.

    Bacardi has sold Havana Club in the U.S. since 1995, but the Cuban government has also been producing their own Havana Club rum. Bacardi officials say Cuba is producing the rum under a stolen name and says it's an "imposter."

    "We recently debuted the 'Forever Cuban' campaign to reaffirm our place as the true Havana Club rum," Ned Duggan, Vice President of Rums for Bacardi, said in a statement.

    This story uses functionality that may not work in our app. Click here to open the story in your web browser.]]>
    <![CDATA[U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Office Closes in Havana]]>Fri, 22 Dec 2017 19:05:01 -0400https://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/embajada-de-estados-unidos-en-cuba.jpg

    The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services office in the U.S. Embassy in Havana has “temporarily suspended field operations”, according to a statement released by the department.

    The department cites staff reductions at the embassy for being the reason why the office will close its doors.

    The field office in Mexico City, Mexico will assume Havana’s jurisdiction.

    Click here for more information to see how filing for certain forms has changed. 

    Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
    <![CDATA[Raul Castro to Stay in Office Through April: Cuban Officials]]>Thu, 21 Dec 2017 14:04:56 -0400https://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/CUBA_AP_251397646095.jpg

    Cuban leader Raul Castro will remain in power for several more months than planned after a new date has been set for elections in the country.

    The Cuban government announced it has postponed the date of their presidential and new assembly election, originally scheduled for Feb. 24. Castro, 86, had originally said he would leave office after his second term was up on the original election date.

    The National Assembly announced through state media that its current term would run through April 19 instead of ending in February because the impact of Hurricane Irma in September had delayed the start of the political cycle.

    The National Assembly's announcement did not explicitly say that Castro would remain until April but the current council of state is also remaining until then, meaning Castro will retain his position as its head barring extraordinary action to replace him. The announcement did not mention any such action.

    Many Cubans and outside observers expect Castro to be replaced as president by First Vice President Miguel Diaz Canel, 57, who has promised to continue Castro's policies. Those policies include allowing the slow and limited introduction of private enterprise into Cuba's centrally planned economy, while maintaining a single-party system and tight government control of virtually all aspects of life on the island.

    Castro is expected to retain his position as head of the Communist Party, which sets the parameters of government policy and overall direction of the country.

    Castro took over from his brother Fidel Castro after the revolutionary leader and founder of the current Cuban system fell ill in 2006. Raul Castro began a series of domestic reforms that included the spread of internet and cellphone access, freedom to travel for most Cubans and the ability to buy and sell cars and houses.

    He also oversaw the reestablishment of diplomatic relations with the United States, a detente that was shaken by the election of Donald Trump as U.S. president last year.

    Trump re-imposed restrictions on Americans' ability to travel to Cuba, cutting into a tourism boom that had helped buffer the island's economy against a decline in trade with socialist ally Venezuela.

    The Cuban government said Thursday that after a recession in 2016, the economy grew 1.6 percent this year, a better performance than expected due largely to a 4.4 rise in income from tourism, along with smaller increases in transport, communications, agriculture and construction.

    Copyright Associated Press / NBC 6 South Florida

    Photo Credit: AP]]>
    <![CDATA[Official: US to Tap Longtime Diplomat to Run Havana Embassy]]>Tue, 05 Dec 2017 12:01:25 -0400https://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/GettyImages-108968181.jpg

    The Trump administration intends to name a former U.S. ambassador to the Philippines and Bolivia to run its embassy in Cuba.

    A U.S. official says the administration has selected Philip Goldberg to be the chargé d'affaires in Havana. That's the top diplomat at U.S. missions where there is no ambassador. The Senate hasn't confirmed an ambassador to Cuba since relations were restored in 2015.

    The official wasn't authorized to disclose the decision and demanded anonymity. The State Department declined to comment.

    Goldberg is a long-serving diplomat once kicked out of Bolivia after the government accused him of fomenting unrest. He served in the Philippines under President Barack Obama.

    It's unclear how long he'll serve in Cuba.

    Word of Goldberg's selection came as Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was in Brussels.

    Copyright Associated Press / NBC 6 South Florida

    Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
    <![CDATA[US Tightens Travel Rules to Cuba, Blacklists Many Businesses]]>Wed, 08 Nov 2017 23:13:37 -0400https://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/GettyImages-1610116.jpg

    Americans seeking to visit Cuba must navigate a complicated maze of travel, commerce and financial restrictions unveiled Wednesday by the Trump administration, part of a new policy to further isolate the island's communist government.

    Now off-limits to U.S. citizens are dozens of Cuban hotels, shops, tour companies and other businesses included on a lengthy American blacklist of entities that have links to Cuba's military, intelligence or security services. And most Americans will once again be required to travel as part of heavily regulated, organized tour groups run by U.S. companies, rather than voyaging to Cuba on their own.

    The stricter rules mark a return to the tougher U.S. stance toward Cuba that existed before former President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro restored diplomatic relations in 2015. They come as President Donald Trump tries to show he's taking action to prevent U.S. dollars from helping prop up the Cuban government.

    "These measures confirm there is a serious reversal in bilateral relations which has occurred as a result of the decisions taken by the government of President Donald Trump," said Josefina Vidal, the top Cuban diplomat for North America.

    Still, the policy is only a partial rollback of Obama's changes. Cruise ship visits and direct commercial flights between the countries will still be permitted. Embassies in Washington and Havana stay open.

    The rules are designed to steer U.S. economic activity away from Cuba's military, intelligence and security services, which dominate much of the economy through state-controlled corporations. The goal is to encourage financial support for Cuba's growing private sector, said senior Trump administration officials, who briefed reporters on a conference call on condition they not be quoted by name.

    To that end, the Treasury Department said it is expanding and simplifying a license that allows some U.S. exports to Cuba despite the embargo. They include tools and equipment to build or renovate privately owned buildings.

    "We have strengthened our Cuba policies to channel economic activity away from the Cuban military and to encourage the government to move toward greater political and economic freedom for the Cuban people," Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said.

    Trump announced his new policy in June during a speech in Miami's Little Havana neighborhood, the cradle of Cuban-American resistance to Castro's government. The administration took several months to finalize the details of the new rules, which will take effect Thursday.

    The new policy maintains several categories of travel to Cuba that are permitted despite the embargo, which carries on decades after the Cold War's end. Americans can still travel on educational and "people to people" trips as well as visits designed to support the Cuban people by patronizing privately owned small businesses that have popped up across the island in recent years.

    But those traveling to support Cuba's people must have a daylong schedule of activities designed to expose them to Cubans and steer dollars toward citizens, such as renting rooms in private homes. Those on organized, "people to people" or educational visits must be accompanied by a representative of the U.S.-based group organizing the trip.

    Vidal, the Cuban diplomat who was the public face of Cuba's opening with the United States during the Obama administration, said the policy would harm Cuba's economy, American citizens and U.S. businesses. The rules were also quickly denounced by travel groups and proponents of closer U.S. ties to the island.

    "Cuba is still open for business," said Charel van Dam of the Cuba Travel Network. "It is still possible for people to travel, but I think these announcements will serve mainly as something to scare off people who want to visit."

    Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., a vocal advocate of improved U.S.-Cuban relations, noted the announcement came as Trump was in China pushing more U.S. business engagement with another communist-run country. "The hypocrisy of the White House ideologues is glaring," Leahy said.

    The rules come amid deep strains in the U.S.-Cuba relationship stemming from invisible, unexplained attacks that have harmed more than two dozen U.S. government personnel in Havana since 2016. The attacks led the Trump administration to order most of its diplomats to leave Cuba in September and issue a sweeping travel warning urging Americans to stay away.

    Officials insisted that the new, tougher rules had no connection to the attacks. The U.S. first complained to Cuba's government about the attacks in February, four months before Trump announced his broader policy intentions.

    Some exceptions will accommodate Americans who already plan to visit Cuba. Those who booked "people to people" trips before Trump's June announcement will be exempt, along with Americans who organized education trips before the rules start on Thursday. Business deals already reached with entities on the prohibited list will be allowed to proceed.

    It's unclear how aggressively the U.S. will police the new rules. Officials said they would use information obtained from several U.S. agencies to catch violators, who could be subject to penalties and criminal prosecution.

    The blacklist bars business with the large military-run corporations that dominate the Cuban economy. These include GAESA and CIMEX, holding companies that control most retail business on the island; Gaviota, the largest tourism company; and Habaguanex, which runs Old Havana.

    It also targets a new cargo port and special trade zone outside the city of Mariel that has been the focus of Cuba's efforts to draw foreign investment in manufacturing and distribution.

    Blacklisted hotels include the Manzana Kempinski, which opened with great fanfare this year as Cuba's first to meet the international five-star standard.

    The overall impact on American business with Cuba will likely be limited. Trade is sparse. Many American travelers already stay at hotels not on the no-go list, and the company that imports most American food products to Cuba is similarly unaffected.

    Bringing home limited quantities of rum and Cuban cigars is still allowed, officials said.

    Copyright Associated Press / NBC 6 South Florida

    Photo Credit: Photo by Jorge Rey/Getty Images]]>
    <![CDATA[Sources: More Announcements to be Made About Cuban Embassy]]>Wed, 04 Oct 2017 15:47:45 -0400https://media.nbcmiami.com/images/180*120/cuba.jps.jpg

    Just one day after the U.S. ordered 15 Cuban diplomats to leave the embassy in Washington, NBC 6 has learned more announcements may be made by Friday.

    Multiple sources say the Senate Intelligence Committee will hold a closed door session soon.

    Although the Cuban government continues to deny involvement in any sort of sonic "attack", sources say the U.S. government is looking into multiple scenarios.

    One angle American officials are exploring is if a Cuban rogue group who didn't want normalized relations between both countries is to blame.

    Another scenario they are looking into is whether or not Russia, North Korea, or Iran were involved.

    "If the investigation reveals that Russia, North Korea, or Iran were involved it would not surprise me if Cuba is put back on the terror watch list," says Andy Gomez Interim director for the University of Miami's Institute for Cuban and Cuban American studies.

    U.S. regulations may also soon be announced that could restrict travel to Cuba and create new processes for doing business according to Gomez who was briefed on this matter.

    Last week, U.S. officials said Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez requested a meeting with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. According to sources, the State Department expected Rodriguez to come to the meeting with some information and they were taken aback when Rodriguez provided little information about the mysterious incident.

    NBC6 has also learned the number of U.S. personnel and family members affected by this health issue in Cuba is greater than 22. Sources say some victims have shown symptoms consistent not only with sonic attacks.

    "I think the U.S.- Cuba normalization process is frozen until Cuba comes forward with something," says Gomez. 

    Photo Credit: AP]]>
    <![CDATA[Ties Threatened: US Orders 15 Cuban Diplomats to Leave DC]]>Tue, 03 Oct 2017 18:06:36 -0400https://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/cubausembassayfeuerherd.jpg

    The United States expelled 15 of Cuba's diplomats Tuesday to protest its failure to protect Americans from unexplained attacks in Havana, plunging diplomatic ties between the countries to levels unseen in years.

    Only days ago, the U.S. and Cuba maintained dozens of diplomats in newly re-opened embassies in Havana and Washington, powerful symbols of a warming relationship between longtime foes. Now both countries are poised to cut their embassies by more than half, as invisible, unexplained attacks threaten delicate ties between the Cold War rivals.

    The State Department gave Cuba's ambassador a list Tuesday of 15 names and ordered them out within one week, officials said, in a move that aims to "ensure equity" between each nation's embassy staffing. Last week, the U.S. announced it was withdrawing 60 percent of its own diplomats from Havana because they might be attacked and harmed if they stay.

    The dual moves marked a sharp escalation in the U.S. response to attacks that began nearly a year ago and yet remain unexplained despite harming at least 22 Americans — including a new victim identified this week.

    Still, U.S. officials emphasized they were not accusing Cuba of either culpability or complicity, merely a failure to stop whatever is happening to Americans working out of the U.S. Embassy in Havana.

    Investigators have explored the possibility of a "sonic attack" harming diplomats through sound waves, but have discovered no device and identified no culprit.

    "We continue to maintain diplomatic relations with Cuba, and will continue to cooperate with Cuba as we pursue the investigation into these attacks," said Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

    Havana blasted the U.S. order, calling it "irresponsible" and "hasty." In the Cuban capital, Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez called a news conference to again deny involvement and defend his country's efforts to assist in the U.S. investigation.

    "The Ministry of Foreign Affairs strongly protests and condemns this unfounded and unacceptable decision as well as the pretext used to justify it," Rodriguez said.

    He did not announce any retaliatory measures.

    The scope of the attacks has continued to grow. The U.S. disclosed Tuesday that 22nd victim was confirmed the day before. In recent weeks the State Department had said there were 21 individuals "medically confirmed" to be affected by attacks that harmed their hearing, cognition, balance and vision, some with diagnoses as serious as brain injury.

    The additional victim was attacked in January but wasn't confirmed to have been affected until symptoms prompted a new medical re-evaluation, said the State Department official, who briefed reporters on a conference call on condition of anonymity.

    Both the U.S. and Cuba will see their diplomatic staffing in their embassies drop to the lowest levels in years.

    Before full diplomatic relations were restored in 2015, Cuba had about two-dozen accredited staffers at what was then the Cuban interests section, according to a State Department list. That number at times climbed as high as more than 50, and the latest edition of the U.S. "Diplomatic List" identifies 26 accredited Cubans at the embassy, almost all accompanied by spouses.

    The removal of 15 will reduce the Cuban staffing to roughly a dozen accredited diplomats.

    In Havana, the U.S. had roughly 54 diplomats in its embassy until deciding Friday to pull more than half of them out and leave behind only "essential personnel." The departing Americans are expected to have all left Cuba by week's end, officials said.

    The Cuban diplomats being expelled will not be deemed "persona non grata," officials said, a designation that would prevent them from ever returning to U.S. soil. The government often uses that designation to expel suspected foreign spies and ensure they can't come back.

    Lawmakers who had called on the Trump administration to expel all of Cuba's diplomats applauded the move Tuesday. Sen. Marco Rubio, a Florida Republican and vocal critic of Castro's government, called it "the right decision" in a Twitter post.

    Yet U.S. officials said the goal wasn't to punish the communist-run island, but to ensure both countries have a similar number of diplomats in each other's capitals.

    Tensions between the two neighbors have been escalating amid serious U.S. concern about the unexplained attacks.

    On Monday, The Associated Press reported that U.S. spies were among the first and most severely affected victims. Though bona fide diplomats have also been affected, it wasn't until intelligence operatives, working under diplomatic cover, reported bizarre sounds and even stranger physical effects that the United States realized something was wrong, several individuals familiar with the situation said.

    The mysterious "health attacks" started within days of President Donald Trump's election in November, the AP has reported.

    Delivering a one-two punch to U.S.-Cuba relations, the U.S. last week also delivered an ominous warning to Americans to stay away from Cuba, a move that could have profound implications for the island's travel industry. The U.S. said that since some workers had been attacked in Havana hotels, it couldn't assure Americans who visit Cuba that they wouldn't suffer attacks.

    "Because our personnel's safety is at risk, and we are unable to identify the source of the attacks, we believe U.S. citizens may also be at risk and warn them not to travel to Cuba," the United States said in a formal travel warning.

    Two years ago, Castro and former President Barack Obama restored diplomatic ties, ordered embassies re-opened and eased travel and commerce restrictions. Trump has reversed some changes but has broadly left the rapprochement in place.

    To medical investigators' dismay, symptoms have varied widely. In addition to hearing loss and concussions, some people have experienced nausea, headaches and ear-ringing. The AP has reported that some now suffer from problems with concentration and common word recall.

    The incidents stopped for a time, but recurred as recently as late August.

    Associated Press writer Andrea Rodriguez in Havana contributed to this report.

    Copyright Associated Press / NBC 6 South Florida

    Photo Credit: AP Photo/Desmond Boylan, File]]>
    <![CDATA[Travel Industry Sticking With Trips to Cuba from US]]>Fri, 29 Sep 2017 23:27:33 -0400https://media.nbcmiami.com/images/180*120/GettyImages-483987802.jpg

    Tour companies, airlines, cruises and others in the travel industry say they will continue taking Americans to Cuba despite a dramatic safety warning issued Friday by the U.S. State Department.

    "We continue to believe that Cuba is a safe destination for our travelers, and we will be running our tours until our assessment changes," said Greg Geronemus, CEO of SmarTours. "There has long been significant political tension between the U.S. and Cuban governments, but the experience that our travelers have had on the ground with the Cuban people has been nothing short of amazing. We have no reason to expect that these experiences will not continue."

    Travel providers point out that there are no reports of American travelers having been harmed by the mysterious sonic attacks against U.S. diplomats and other officials, and that travel to Cuba by Americans remains legal under existing regulations.

    Collin Laverty of Cuba Educational Travel noted that the U.S. State Department has issued numerous alerts and advisories against travel by Americans to places like Mexico and Europe because of crime, terrorism and other dangers. In contrast, in Cuba, "they have no evidence to indicate that U.S. travelers at risk during their visits to Cuba." He also called the warning "absolutely unnecessary and counterproductive."

    The Trump Administration said earlier this year that it planned to issue new rules limiting travel by Americans to Cuba but it has not yet done so.

    U.S. airlines continue to offer regular flights to Cuba, cruises continue to make stops there, Airbnb has a thriving rental business in Cuba and tour companies are still offering trips.

    American Airlines is among a number of carriers declining to refund or waive change fees for Cuba flights despite the warning Friday. Travelers with tickets to Cuba are being treated like any travelers wishing to make changes: They must call the airline's reservations line to see what the options are, based on whether they bought a refundable or non-refundable ticket, said American spokesman Matt Miller.

    "It is still legal to travel to Cuba," reiterated Greg Buzulencia, CEO of ViaHero, which creates personal itineraries for Americans visiting Cuba. "I don't have any insight on the claimed attacks on U.S. diplomats, but there have been no such attacks on US travelers." He said they'd had no cancellations from travelers.

    John West made plans months ago to go to Cuba next week with a group of 12 friends from Washington D.C. and New York. Now they want to cancel. West said as of midday Friday, they couldn't get refunds on their United flights or the Airbnb house they rented in Havana. "We're kind of stuck in a pickle," West said. "We sent them articles stating that diplomats are getting attacked by this sonic whatever it is. ... All these issues arising from the hurricane and the attacks on the diplomats — it's just not safe for us to go."

    Airbnb spokesman Nick Papas said that "consistent with U.S. law, our operations in Cuba will continue. ... Guests from the United States who have previously booked a trip to Cuba and wish to cancel their travel to Cuba can contact Airbnb to have their Airbnb reservation cost refunded under our extenuating circumstances policy."

    United spokesman Frank Benenati said the airline's Cuba flights are operating "normally."

    In Friday's travel warning, the State Department said some of the unexplained physical effects have occurred in Cuban hotels, and that while American tourists aren't known to have been hurt they could be exposed if they travel to Cuba. Tourism is a critical component of Cuba's economy.

    Carlos Valderrama, owner of Cuba Travel Group, a Miami-based agency that sells trips for cultural tours and eco-tourism, said he's already booked a third fewer trips this year than last because of President Donald Trump's June announcement that restrictions were forthcoming on travel to Cuba. As for Friday's warning, Valderrama said, "It was already very difficult to explain to Americans who want to travel to Cuba the ways in which they can do it correctly. This will only scare them more. But it's doesn't reflect the reality of (what it's) like to travel to Cuba."

    Royal Caribbean spokeswoman Cynthia Martinez said that because the incidents referenced in the warning took place in hotels and diplomatic residences, "we do not feel that they pose a risk to our cruise passengers." A Carnival cruise spokeswoman said it was "evaluating" the warning.

    Beth Harpaz reported from New York. Jennifer Kay in Miami contributed to this report.

    Copyright Associated Press / NBC 6 South Florida

    Photo Credit: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images, File]]>
    <![CDATA[Tillerson Meets Top Cuba Envoy Amid Probe Into 'Attacks']]>Tue, 26 Sep 2017 21:30:51 -0400https://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/cuba-FM.jpg

    Cuba's top diplomat insisted Tuesday that his government had nothing to do with unexplained health "attacks" on U.S. diplomats, telling Secretary of State Rex Tillerson that Cuba still has no evidence to explain what transpired in Havana. Tillerson emphasized that it's Cuba's responsibility to protect diplomats on its soil, regardless of who is to blame.

    The former Cold War foes appeared no closer to resolving the bizarre, frightening health crisis after a hastily arranged meeting between Tillerson and visiting Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez. Cuba requested the meeting as the U.S. considers shuttering the newly re-opened U.S. Embassy in Havana, a response that would deal a devastating blow to the delicate rapprochement between the countries.

    The meeting between Tillerson and Rodriguez marked the highest-level diplomatic contact between the countries since the start of President Donald Trump's administration in January. It comes as the re-engagement, started under President Barack Obama, is being jeopardized by mounting alarm over the unexplained incidents that have harmed at least 21 Americans — some with ailments as serious as traumatic brain injury.

    The Cuban Embassy in Washington, describing the evening meeting, said Rodriguez told Tillerson that Cuba "has never perpetrated nor will it ever perpetrate attacks of any kind against diplomats." Rodriguez added that his government also would never let a third party — such as another country hostile to the U.S. — use Cuban territory to attack Americans.

    "He stated that according to the preliminary results obtained by the Cuban authorities in their investigations, which have borne in mind the information given by the U.S. authorities, there is no evidence so far of the cause or the origin of the health disorders reported by the U.S. diplomats," Cuba's embassy said in a statement.

    Tillerson, for his part, told the visiting Cuban that the U.S. still has "profound concern" for the safety and security of its diplomats in Havana. After all, the U.S. has detected incidents as recently as late August that led to medically confirmed cases of injury, the U.S. has said.

    "The secretary conveyed the gravity of the situation and underscored the Cuban authorities' obligations to protect embassy staff and their families under the Vienna Convention," State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said. The Vienna Convention refers to international law that governs how host countries must treat foreign envoys.

    Neither country, in their descriptions of the meeting, offered any details about what the U.S. response might entail. Yet Rodriguez told Tillerson that "it would be regrettable that a matter of this nature is politicized," reviving an argument Rodriguez made last week before the United Nations General Assembly.

    And Rodriguez argued that the U.S. acted inappropriately in May by kicking out two Cuban diplomats posted in Washington. The State Department has said it took that action to protest Havana's apparent failure to protect American diplomats in Cuba, not because the U.S. believed Castro's government was behind the attacks.

    Still, Rodriguez said Cuba has an "impeccable record" in protecting diplomats, the embassy said.

    The ongoing U.S. deliberations about possibly shuttering its embassy, confirmed by Tillerson last week, constitute the most striking example of how the incidents are weighing on the U.S.-Cuba relationship. The U.S. and Cuba re-opened embassies in Havana and Washington in 2015 after Castro and Obama reached a historic agreement to resume diplomatic relations after a half-century of enmity.

    The Trump administration has also considered smaller-scale steps such as withdrawing all nonessential personnel from Havana, leaving the embassy technically open but unable to perform its full range of functions unless and until the health concerns are resolved, U.S. officials have said.

    For months after U.S. diplomats started falling ill in Havana, the U.S. and Cuba sought to prevent the issue from becoming an overriding irritant in the relationship. Neither country disclosed publicly that the incidents were occurring, even after Washington in May expelled the two Cuban diplomats.

    Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan told Congress on Tuesday that it was a reasonable suspicion that Cuban authorities either were involved in the incidents or at least knew they were occurring. Cuba keeps tight surveillance on American diplomats in the country and would be likely to know if something significant were happening to them.

    But Sullivan acknowledged that with so much unknown, even that assumption is less than certain, and added, "As a U.S. government official, I don't know that."

    Yet while the U.S. has avoided blaming Cuba directly for the incidents, the growing public outrage has forced both countries to adopt a tougher tone. Several U.S. lawmakers have called on the Trump administration to expel all Cuban diplomats from Washington.

    At least 21 U.S. diplomats and their families have suffered a variety of physical symptoms since late last year as a result of what Tillerson has described as "health attacks." Some have been diagnosed with mild brain injury and permanent hearing loss. U.S. investigators have pursued the possibility the attacks were carried out with some sort of sonic device but have been unable to determine the cause or a culprit.

    The U.S. cases involve diplomats and their families, some who have permanent hearing loss or concussions. Others suffered nausea, headaches and ear-ringing. Some are struggling with concentration or common word recall, The Associated Press has reported.

    The U.S. has said the tally of Americans affected could grow as more cases are potentially detected.

    Copyright Associated Press / NBC 6 South Florida

    Photo Credit: Richard Drew/AP]]>
    <![CDATA[Cuba Opens 5-Month Transition Likely to End Castro Reign]]>Tue, 05 Sep 2017 07:34:23 -0400https://media.nbcmiami.com/images/180*120/GettyImages-516938636-08.jpg

    Cuba on Monday began a five-month political transition expected to end with Raul Castro's departure from the presidency, capping his family's near-total dominance of the political system for nearly 60 years.

    Over the rest of September, Cubans will meet in small groups to nominate municipal representatives, the first in a series of votes for local, provincial and, finally, national officials.

    In the second electoral stage, a commission dominated by government-linked organizations will pick all the candidates for elections to provincial assemblies and Cuba's national assembly.

    The national assembly is expected to pick the president and members of the powerful Council of State by February. Castro has said he will leave the presidency by that date but he is expected to remain head of the Communist Party, giving him power that may be equal to or greater than the new president's.

    Cuban officials say 12,515 block-level districts will nominate candidates for city council elections to be held Oct. 22.

    An opposition coalition says it expects 170 dissidents to seek nomination in the block-level meetings that began Monday. A few opposition candidates made it to that stage previously but were defeated.

    The government does not allow the participation of parties other than the ruling Communist Party and has worked to quash the election of individual opposition candidates, leading critics to call the votes an empty exercise meant to create the appearance of democratic participation.

    Cuban officials say dissidents are paid by foreign governments and exile groups as part of a plan to overthrow the island's socialist system and reinstall the capitalism and U.S. dominance ended by the country's 1959 revolution.

    At one session Monday evening, about 400 people gathered to choose their neighborhood's candidate, meeting in front of a house adorned with photos of the late Fidel Castro and Cuban flags. Choosing between their current delegate and a young challenger, they re-nominated physician Orlando Gutierrez. Both men were praised as "revolutionary" and "honest."

    "We have to be here to defend our revolution and the social gains we have won," said one voter, Ivis Garcia, who works for a state-owned real estate enterprise.

    Raul Castro, 86, became president in 2008 and launched a series of slow-moving and limited socio-economic reforms after his brother Fidel stepped down due to illness. Fidel Castro died last year at age 90.

    Cuba's new president has long been expected to be First Vice President Miguel Diaz-Canel, a 57-year-old career party official who has maintained a low public profile in recent years.

    Many Cubans' greatest exposure to Diaz-Canel this year has been through an unusual video of the vice president speaking at a private Communist Party event, footage that was leaked to the public by an unknown culprit and widely distributed on thumb drives and online.

    In the video, Diaz-Canel discusses plans for crackdowns on independent media, entrepreneurs and opposition groups trying to win municipal positions.

    "We're taking all possible steps to discredit that," he says in the footage. "We're involved in this whole process."

    The workings of the Cuban government are highly opaque and the public only rarely hears from high-ranking officials, with the exception of a few annual speeches and edited selections of talks at twice-a-year sessions of congress and similarly infrequent party meetings. In addition, the government maintains tight control of the media and internet use in the country and leaks of high-level meetings and speeches are highly unusual.

    The Diaz-Canel video may have been leaked by the government itself to telegraph that Diaz-Canel will not accelerate the reform process started by Raul Castro, said Armando Chaguaceda, a Mexico-based Cuban political scientists.

    "It could serve to send a signal of official intentions not to create any political opening, without being an official government statement," Chaguaceda said.

    Copyright Associated Press / NBC 6 South Florida

    Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
    <![CDATA[UM Doctors Treat Hearing Loss of US Diplomats in Cuba]]>Wed, 16 Aug 2017 14:42:47 -0400https://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/cuba-flag-GettyImages-481396786.jpg

    The Trump Administration reached out to University of Miami medical experts after American diplomats in Havana continuously became sick and experienced severe hearing loss, according to a New York Times report.

    Diplomats reportedly have also experienced other symptoms such as headaches and dizziness at the embassy since it opened during former President Barack Obama’s restoration of diplomatic relations with the island nation.

    The hearing loss in particular has been so severe that many diplomats have returned to the US with at least six patients being treated in UM’s hospital this year - and a UM specialist traveled to Havana this month to examine diplomats experiencing this nameless illness.

    US officials have also stated that the diplomats were exposed to a sonic wave device either within or outside of the diplomats’ homes, which are owned and run by Cuba’s government.

    The illness reports date back to 2016, State Department officials told the paper. Canadian diplomats have reportedly also become sick.

    On August 10, the Cuban Foreign Ministry told the Times that “Cuba has never allowed or will it allow the Cuban territory to be used for any action against accredited diplomatic officials or their families, without exception."

    Photo Credit: Bloomberg via Getty Images]]>
    <![CDATA[US Expels 2 Cuban Diplomats After Incidents in Cuba]]>Wed, 09 Aug 2017 21:28:12 -0400https://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/cuba-flag-GettyImages-481396786.jpg

    The two-year-old U.S. diplomatic relationship with Cuba was roiled Wednesday by what U.S. officials say was a string of bizarre incidents that left a group of American diplomats in Havana with severe hearing loss attributed to a covert sonic device.

    In the fall of 2016, a series of U.S. diplomats began suffering unexplained losses of hearing, according to officials with knowledge of the investigation into the case. Several of the diplomats were recent arrivals at the embassy, which reopened in 2015 as part of former President Barack Obama's reestablishment of diplomatic relations with Cuba.

    Some of the diplomats' symptoms were so severe that they were forced to cancel their tours early and return to the United States, officials said. After months of investigation, U.S. officials concluded that the diplomats had been exposed to an advanced device that operated outside the range of audible sound and had been deployed either inside or outside their residences. It was not immediately clear if the device was a weapon used in a deliberate attack, or had some other purpose.

    The U.S. officials weren't authorized to discuss the investigation publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.

    State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said the U.S. retaliated by expelling two Cuban diplomats from their embassy in Washington on May 23. She did not say how many U.S. diplomats were affected or confirm they had suffered hearing loss, saying only that they had "a variety of physical symptoms."

    The Cuban government said in a lengthy statement late Wednesday that "Cuba has never permitted, nor will permit, that Cuban territory be used for any action against accredited diplomatic officials or their families, with no exception."

    The statement from the Cuban Foreign Ministry said it had been informed of the incidents on Feb. 17 and had launched an "exhaustive, high-priority, urgent investigation at the behest of the highest level of the Cuban government."

    It said the decision to expel two Cuban diplomats was "unjustified and baseless."

    The ministry said it had created an expert committee to analyze the incidents and had reinforced security around the U.S. embassy and U.S. diplomatic residences.

    "Cuba is universally considered a safe destination for visitors and foreign diplomats, including U.S. citizens," the statement said.

    U.S. officials told The Associated Press that about five diplomats, several with spouses, had been affected and that no children had been involved. The FBI and Diplomatic Security Service are investigating.

    Cuba employs a state security apparatus that keeps many people under surveillance and U.S. diplomats are among the most closely monitored people on the island. Like virtually all foreign diplomats in Cuba, the victims of the incidents lived in housing owned and maintained by the Cuban government.

    However, officials familiar with the probe said investigators were looking into the possibilities that the incidents were carried out by a third country such as Russia, possibly operating without the knowledge of Cuba's formal chain of command.

    Nauert said investigators did not yet have a definitive explanation for the incidents but stressed they take them "very seriously," as shown by the Cuban diplomats' expulsions.

    "We requested their departure as a reciprocal measure since some U.S. personnel's assignments in Havana had to be curtailed due to these incidents," she said. "Under the Vienna Convention, Cuba has an obligation to take measures to protect diplomats."

    U.S. diplomats in Cuba said they suffered occasional harassment for years after the restoration of limited ties with the communist government in the 1970s, harassment reciprocated by U.S. agents against Cuban diplomats in Washington. The use of sonic devices to intentionally harm diplomats would be unprecedented.

    Weissenstein reported from Havana.

    Copyright Associated Press / NBC 6 South Florida

    Photo Credit: Bloomberg via Getty Images, File]]>
    <![CDATA[New Trump Rules on Cuba Travel Leaves Winners and Losers]]>Tue, 27 Jun 2017 19:22:47 -0400https://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/trump-plane1.jpg

    President Donald Trump's new policy on Cuba travel has winners and losers: Group tour operators hope to sell more trips, but bed-and-breakfast owners in Cuba say they're losing business.

    Five of 12 private bed-and-breakfast owners in Havana and Cuba's southern colonial city of Trinidad told The Associated Press that they received cancellations after Trump's June 16 announcement.

    "It's contradictory that (Trump) says he want to help civil society, the Cuban people, but what he's doing is hurting them, hurting bed-and-breakfast owners in this case," said Tony Lopez, who rents rooms for $30-$50 nightly in a three-bedroom, 16th-floor apartment in Havana's trendy Vedado neighborhood. Those canceling included two Americans worried about legal requirements, including documenting their spending.

    "We get a lot of Americans. We're alarmed," said Eliset Ruiz, manager of a nine-room bed-and-breakfast in Trinidad. "We've had a lot of cancellations for June and July."

    Alex Bunten of Charlotte, Vermont, hoped to go to Cuba with his girlfriend in August "without the hassle of tour groups and schedules and such. We like watching the world go by, eating good food, not being herded by an umbrella-holding, But Bunten nixed the idea because under the new rules, only licensed tour operators can take Americans to Cuba on "people-to-people" trips. That's "too much of a hassle," Bunten said.


    Tour operators "should be opening Champagne" because of the new policy, said John Caulfield, former chief of mission of the U.S. Interests Section in Havana and co-founder of the nonprofit Innovadores Foundation , which seeds innovation in Cuba.

    In theory, the new rules should spur "an increase in demand," said Access Trips CEO Tamar Lowell. But some Americans "will be confused by the new policy," wrongly assuming that all Cuba travel is now off-limits.

    "The travel operators are going to have to do some work to make people aware that if you go with us, it's OK," said Caulfield.

    Classic Journeys President Edward Piegza said the new rules could discourage Americans from traveling individually, but the change could be good for the group tour business.


    The new rules also ban Americans from doing business with entities controlled by Cuban military and intelligence agencies, including some 50 hotels.

    Many tour operators say that's no problem because they already use privately owned villas, casas and eateries, and engage with local guides, entrepreneurs and artists.

    Caulfield said the Cubans can also fill up hotels that are off-limits to Americans with tourists from other countries, thereby freeing up rooms elsewhere for U.S. groups.

    Meanwhile, small bed-and-breakfast owners plan to create informal associations of neighboring businesses so they can accommodate larger American groups.

    Piegza said lodging costs increased last year but are coming down, allowing Classic Journeys to drop tour prices from $4,995 for four days in Cuba to $3,995.

    But Lowell thinks prices could go either way. With fewer individual Americans traveling, private lodging options could increase, driving prices down. But if tour groups forced out of military-controlled hotels start booking private homes, prices could stay high.

    Hotels aren't an issue for cruises because passengers sleep on the ships. But Carnival Corp. says even its activities on the ground in Cuba already comply with the new rules. "Many of our current tours have been designed with small family-run operations to give our guests an authentic Cuban experience," said Carnival spokesman Roger Frizzell.

    Others are revising itineraries. "We have had to redesign our women's trip to Cuba," said Phyllis Stoller from The Women's Travel Group , which plans a trip for 15 in March. "Our original operator had us visiting some rural areas that are apparently owned by the military."

    Meanwhile private entrepreneurs worry the government may not allow U.S. tour groups to simply shift their business from state-run hotels to the private sector, at least not without hefty commissions. In the decade since President Raul Castro began allowing more private-sector activity, the government has viewed entrepreneurs as both vital sources of economic growth and as dangerous competitors for sluggish state-run businesses. Because tour groups are required to use government buses and guides, the government controls their movements and requires many private businesses that receive tour groups to sign contracts that include commissions for the government.

    Visits to major tourist attractions like Ernest Hemingway's estate and the Tropicana nightclub shouldn't be affected by the new U.S. rules, since neither falls under military auspices. U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Florida, a Cuban-American who supports travel restrictions, suggested in tweets that he'd like to ban attractions run by other Cuban government agencies, like the ministries of culture and tourism. But it will be months before the U.S. Treasury Department announces details on which sites are off-limits. 


    Rubio also suggested that independent travel might continue. Rubio tweeted that the new rules allow "individual Americans" to "travel to Cuba under Support for the Cuban people category" as long as they use "privately owned lodging."

    That's heartening to companies like ViaHero, which creates personalized itineraries connecting individual Americans with artists, entrepreneurs and other Cuban locals. ViaHero CEO Greg Buzulencia thinks ViaHero trips will qualify under the "support for the Cuban people" category of travel permitted by the U.S. because ViaHero's itineraries "start conversations and promote independent businesses and activity" in Cuba outside of government-run spheres.

    ViaHero's model is also affordable, as little as $400 for a week in Havana _ plus a $25-a-day trip-planning fee -- compared with group tours charging $5,000 for a week.

    Chad Olin, president of Cuba Candela , says his company's people-to-people tours qualify under the new rules because all lodging, drivers, restaurants and cultural activities are from Cuba's private sector. But he also thinks Americans can travel independently using the "support for the Cuban people" category, as long as they patronize private businesses and connect with locals in meaningful ways.

    Copyright Associated Press / NBC 6 South Florida

    Photo Credit: AP Photo/Evan Vucci]]>
    <![CDATA[Cuba Rejects New US Policy, Saying Pressure Will Not Work]]>Mon, 19 Jun 2017 17:55:15 -0400https://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/cuba-flag-GettyImages-481396786.jpg

    Cuba's foreign minister has rejected President Donald Trump's new policy toward the island, saying "we will never negotiate under pressure or under threat" and refusing to return U.S. fugitives who have received asylum in Cuba.

    In a hard-edged response to the policy announced Friday, Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez said from Vienna Monday that Trump's restrictions on transactions with the Cuban military would not achieve their objective of weakening the government. He said they would instead create unity behind the communist leadership.

    He described fugitives such as Joanne Chesimard, a black militant convicted of the murder of a New Jersey state trooper, as political refugees who had received asylum from the Cuban government and would not be returned because the U.S. has no "legal or moral basis" to demand their return.

    Trump declared Friday he was restoring some travel and economic restrictions on Cuba that were lifted as part of the Obama administration's historic easing. He challenged the communist government of Raul Castro to negotiate a better deal for Cubans and Cuban-Americans.

    Announcing the rollback of President Barack Obama's diplomatic opening during a speech in Miami, Trump said Cuba had secured far too many concessions from the U.S. in the "one-sided" deal but "now those days are over." He said penalties on Cuba would remain in place until its government releases political prisoners, stops abusing dissidents and respects freedom of expression.

    "America has rejected the Cuban people's oppressors," Trump said in a crowded, sweltering auditorium. "They are rejected officially today — rejected."

    Though Trump's announcement stops short of a full reversal of the Cuba rapprochement, it targets the travel and economic engagement between the countries that has blossomed in the short time since relations were restored. The goal is to halt the flow of U.S. cash to the country's military and security services in a bid to increase pressure on Cuba's government.

    Embassies in Havana and Washington will remain open. U.S. airlines and cruise ships will still be allowed to serve the island 90 miles south of Florida. The "wet foot, dry foot" policy, which once let most Cuban migrants stay if they made it to U.S. soil but was terminated under Obama, will remain terminated. Remittances to Cuba won't be cut off.

    But individual "people-to-people" trips by Americans to Cuba, allowed by Obama for the first time in decades, will again be prohibited. And the U.S. government will police other such trips to ensure there's a tour group representative along making sure travelers are pursuing a "full-time schedule of educational exchange activities."

    Trump described his move as an effort to ramp up pressure to create a "free Cuba" after more than half a century of communism. 

    Copyright Associated Press / NBC 6 South Florida

    Photo Credit: Bloomberg via Getty Images]]>
    <![CDATA[3 Cuban Dissidents Detained After Cathedral Protest]]>Thu, 27 Jul 2017 16:16:30 -0400https://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/072717+cuba+protest+Catedral+de+Santiago+de+Cuba.jpg

    A trio of anti-government protesters in Cuba were detained after they unfurled banners on the Catedral de Santiago de Cuba Wednesday.

    Video released by protest group UNPACU showed the three demonstrators holding the banners on the building.

    "58 years of deception, hunger and misery," one banner read. "The people want liberty, justice and democracy," the other read.

    The video showed the three men being taken into police custody.

    Photo Credit: UNPACU]]>
    <![CDATA[Here's Who Was There When President Trump Signed Cuba Policy]]>Fri, 16 Jun 2017 19:31:45 -0400https://media.nbcmiami.com/images/211*120/GettyImages-696667352.jpg

    President Donald Trump was in Miami Friday afternoon to announce changes to the U.S.-Cuba policy.

    Florida Gov. Rick Scott, Senator Marco Rubio and Cuban journalist Cary Roque were among those who joined Trump in Little Havana for the signing of the policy, restores some travel and economic restrictions on Cuba that were lifted under the Obama administration.

    To learn more about each person who surrounded Trump, hover over the circles on the photo below:

    Photo Credit: Getty Images
    This story uses functionality that may not work in our app. Click here to open the story in your web browser.]]>
    <![CDATA[Supporters, Protesters Voice Opinion on Trump's Cuba Change]]>Fri, 16 Jun 2017 19:49:43 -0400https://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/061617+trump+rally+supporters+and+protesters.jpg

    As President Donald Trump spoke in front of a largely supportive crowd inside a Little Havana theater Friday, detailing his plans to roll back several policy moves regarding the relationship between America and Cuba, groups of opponents and supporters stood outside voicing their opinions.

    While supporters waved signs from Trump’s presidential campaign – as well as some holding signs still taking aim at his opponent in the election, Hillary Clinton - those who oppose the President’s plans were just as vocal.

    Protesters greeted Trump, who was making his first trip to Miami since becoming president, to two continuous hours of the Beatles' "Back in the USSR" on a speaker.

    "The Cuban people want more Americans coming, they want opportunity. They live off these tips they make in the private sector," said Patrick Hidalgo, a Cuban-American activist. "Any curtailing of that is not good for the cause of democracy itself, the transition and for just the daily living of average Cubans."

    "If you look at how communism has been toppled, it has not been with embargoes, it has been toppled with dialogue," said Millie Rayfield.

    The Trump administration says it is changing the policy, enacted by former President Obama in 2014 in an effort to thaw relations between the countries that has last for over half a century, in part due to the continued human rights violations by the Cuban government – an issue many supporters have spoken about since the initial policy changes were created.

    The President’s plan also is aimed in an effort to allow the Cuban people to develop economic and political liberty.

    Opponents, including a growing number of younger Cuban Americans born in America, contend that such moves will not allow citizens that chance at liberty and will funnel more to the administration of current Cuban leader Raul Castro – who will leave office in February of 2018.

    Photo Credit: Twitter / @AriOdzerNBC6
    This story uses functionality that may not work in our app. Click here to open the story in your web browser.]]>
    <![CDATA[President Trump Announces Changes in Cuba Policy in Miami]]>Fri, 16 Jun 2017 14:02:20 -0400https://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/GettyImages-696651884.jpgPresident Donald Trump visited Miami Friday to announce changes to the U.S. policy toward Cuba. The president delivered his remarks at the Manuel Artime Theater in Miami's Little Havana neighborhood.

    Photo Credit: Joe Raedle/Getty Images]]>
    <![CDATA[US Treasury Department Releases FAQ on Cuba Changes]]>Fri, 16 Jun 2017 14:49:25 -0400https://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/GettyImages-79836422.jpg

    The Department of the Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control released a series of frequently asked questions regarding President Donald Trump's changes to the U.S. policy toward Cuba Friday, as the president announced the changes in Miami.

    Frequently Asked Questions on President Trump’s Cuba Announcement:

    1. How will OFAC implement the changes to the Cuba sanctions program announced by the President on June 16, 2017? Are the changes effective immediately?

    OFAC will implement the Treasury-specific changes via amendments to its Cuban Assets Control Regulations. The Department of Commerce will implement any necessary changes via amendments to its Export Administration Regulations. OFAC expects to issue its regulatory amendments in the coming months. The announced changes do not take effect until the new regulations are issued.

    2. What is individual people-to-people travel, and how does the President’s announcement impact this travel authorization?

    Individual people-to-people travel is educational travel that: (i) does not involve academic study pursuant to a degree program; and (ii) does not take place under the auspices of an organization that is subject to U.S. jurisdiction that sponsors such exchanges to promote people-to-people contact. The President instructed Treasury to issue regulations that will end individual people-to-people travel. The announced changes do not take effect until the new regulations are issued.

    3. Will group people-to-people travel still be authorized?

    Yes. Group people-to-people travel is educational travel not involving academic study pursuant to a degree program that takes place under the auspices of an organization that is subject to U.S. jurisdiction that sponsors such exchanges to promote people-to-people contact. Travelers utilizing this travel authorization must maintain a full-time schedule of educational exchange activities that are intended to enhance contact with the Cuban people, support civil society in Cuba, or promote the Cuban people’s independence from Cuban authorities, and that will result in meaningful interaction between the traveler and individuals in Cuba. An employee, consultant, or agent of the group must accompany each group to ensure that each traveler maintains a full-time schedule of educational exchange activities.

    4. How do the changes announced by the President on June 16, 2017 affect individual people-to-people travelers who have already begun making their travel arrangements (such as purchasing flights, hotels, or rental cars)?

    The announced changes do not take effect until OFAC issues new regulations. Provided that the traveler has already completed at least one travel-related transaction (such as purchasing a flight or reserving accommodation) prior to the President’s announcement on June 16, 2017, all additional travel-related transactions for that trip, whether the trip occurs before or after OFAC’s new regulations are issued, would also be authorized, provided the travel-related transactions are consistent with OFAC’s regulations as of June 16, 2017.

    5. How do the changes announced by the President on June 16, 2017 affect other authorized travelers to Cuba whose travel arrangements may include direct transactions with entities related to the Cuban military, intelligence, or security services that may be implicated by the new Cuba policy?

    The announced changes do not take effect until OFAC issues new regulations. Consistent with the Administration’s interest in not negatively impacting Americans for arranging lawful travel to Cuba, any travel-related arrangements that include direct transactions with entities related to the Cuban military, intelligence, or security services that may be implicated by the new Cuba policy will be permitted provided that those travel arrangements were initiated prior to the issuance of the forthcoming regulations.

    6. How do the changes announced by the President on June 16, 2017 affect companies subject to U.S. jurisdiction that are already engaged in the Cuban market and that may undertake direct transactions with entities related to the Cuban military, intelligence, or security services that may be implicated by the new Cuba policy?

    The announced changes do not take effect until OFAC issues new regulations. Consistent with the Administration’s interest in not negatively impacting American businesses for engaging in lawful commercial opportunities, any Cuba-related commercial engagement that includes direct transactions with entities related to the Cuban military, intelligence, or security services that may be implicated by the new Cuba policy will be permitted provided that those commercial engagements were in place prior to the issuance of the forthcoming regulations.

    7. Does the new policy affect how persons subject to U.S jurisdiction may purchase airline tickets for authorized travel to Cuba?

    No. The new policy will not change how persons subject to U.S. jurisdiction traveling to Cuba pursuant to the 12 categories of authorized travel may purchase their airline tickets.

    8. Can I continue to send authorized remittances to Cuba?

    Yes. The announced policy changes will not change the authorizations for sending remittances to Cuba. Additionally, the announced changes include an exception that will allow for transactions incidental to the sending, processing, and receipt of authorized remittances to the extent they would otherwise be restricted by the new policy limiting transactions with certain identified Cuban military, intelligence, or security services. As a result, the restrictions on certain transactions in the new Cuba policy will not limit the ability to send or receive authorized remittances.

    9. How does the new policy impact other authorized travel to Cuba by persons subject to U.S. jurisdiction?

    The new policy will not result in changes to the other (non-individual people-to-people) authorizations for travel. Following the issuance of OFAC’s regulatory changes, travel-related transactions with prohibited entities identified by the State Department generally will not be permitted. Guidance will accompany the issuance of the new regulations.

    10. How will the new policy impact existing OFAC specific licenses?

    The forthcoming regulations will be prospective and thus will not affect existing contracts and licenses.

    11. How will U.S. companies know if their Cuban counterpart is affiliated with a prohibited entity or sub-entity in Cuba?

    The State Department will be publishing a list of entities with which direct transactions generally will not be permitted. Guidance will accompany the issuance of the new regulations. The announced changes do not take effect until the new regulations are issued.

    12. Is authorized travel by cruise ship or passenger vessel to Cuba impacted by the new Cuba policy?

    Persons subject to U.S. jurisdiction will still be able to engage in authorized travel to Cuba by cruise ship or passenger vessel. Following the issuance of OFAC’s regulatory changes, travel-related transactions with prohibited entities identified by the State Department generally will not be permitted.

    Guidance will accompany the issuance of the new regulations.

    Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
    <![CDATA[Trump Cancels Part of Obama's 'One-Sided' Deal With Cuba]]>Sat, 17 Jun 2017 14:35:50 -0400https://media.nbcmiami.com/images/180*120/GettyImages-696659190.jpg

    President Donald Trump declared Friday he was restoring some travel and economic restrictions on Cuba that were lifted as part of the Obama administration's historic easing. He challenged the communist government of Raul Castro to negotiate a better deal for Cubans and Cuban-Americans.

    Announcing the rollback of President Barack Obama's diplomatic opening during a speech in Miami, Trump said Cuba had secured far too many concessions from the U.S. in the "one-sided" deal but "now those days are over." He said penalties on Cuba would remain in place until its government releases political prisoners, stops abusing dissidents and respects freedom of expression.

    "America has rejected the Cuban people's oppressors," Trump said in a crowded, sweltering auditorium. "They are rejected officially today — rejected."

    Though Trump's announcement stops short of a full reversal of the Cuba rapprochement, it targets the travel and economic engagement between the countries that has blossomed in the short time since relations were restored. The goal is to halt the flow of U.S. cash to the country's military and security services in a bid to increase pressure on Cuba's government.

    Embassies in Havana and Washington will remain open. U.S. airlines and cruise ships will still be allowed to serve the island 90 miles south of Florida. The "wet foot, dry foot" policy, which once let most Cuban migrants stay if they made it to U.S. soil but was terminated under Obama, will remain terminated. Remittances to Cuba won't be cut off.

    But individual "people-to-people" trips by Americans to Cuba, allowed by Obama for the first time in decades, will again be prohibited. And the U.S. government will police other such trips to ensure there's a tour group representative along making sure travelers are pursuing a "full-time schedule of educational exchange activities."

    Trump described his move as an effort to ramp up pressure to create a "free Cuba" after more than half a century of communism.

    "I do believe that end is in the very near future," he said.

    Trump's move was a direct rebuke to Obama, for whom the diplomatic opening with Cuba was a central accomplishment of his presidency. The new president's action is broadly opposed by American business groups.

    "U.S. private sector engagement can be a positive force for the kind of change we all wish to see in Cuba," said Myron Brilliant, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce executive vice president and head of international affairs. "Unfortunately, today's moves actually limit the possibility for positive change on the island and risk ceding growth opportunities to other countries that, frankly, may not share America's interest in a free and democratic Cuba that respects human rights."

    In Cuba, Granma, the official organ of the nation's Communist Party, covered Friday's speech in a real-time blog, saying "Trump's declarations are a return to imperialist rhetoric and unilateral demands, sending relations between Havana and Washington back into the freezer."

    On the stage in Miami, Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Fla., said the U.S. would no longer have to witness the "embarrassing spectacle" of an American president glad-handing with a dictator.

    "President Trump will treat the Castro regime as a malevolent dictatorship that it is," Diaz-Balart said. "Thank you, President Trump, for keeping your commitments. You have not betrayed us — you kept your promise."

    Obama announced in December 2014 that he and Cuban leader Raul Castro were restoring diplomatic ties between their countries, arguing that a new approach was needed because the policy the U.S. had pursued for decades had failed to democratize the island. Less than a year later, the U.S. Embassy in Havana re-opened.

    The U.S. severed ties with Cuba in 1961 after Fidel Castro's revolution, and spent subsequent decades trying to either overthrow the Cuban government or isolate the island, including by toughening an economic embargo first imposed by President Dwight D. Eisenhower.

    The trade embargo remains in place under Trump. Only the U.S. Congress can lift it, and lawmakers, especially those of Cuban heritage, like Sen. Marco Rubio, another Florida Republican, have shown no interest in doing so.

    Rubio staunchly opposed Obama's re-engagement with Cuba, and he lauded Trump as he took the stage.

    "Today, a new president lands in Miami to reach out his hand to the people of Cuba," Rubio said.

    Copyright Associated Press / NBC 6 South Florida

    Photo Credit: Joe Raedle/Getty Images]]>
    <![CDATA[Cubans Brace For Worst as Trump Could Change American Policy]]>Fri, 16 Jun 2017 11:21:04 -0400https://media.nbcmiami.com/images/171*120/AP_943538621767-10.jpg

    Church bells rang out and Cubans strung American flags from their windows when President Barack Obama announced in December 2014 that the U.S. would stop trying to push Cuba toward collapse.

    Obama's new policy of engagement unleashed a flood of American visitors, pumping cash into Cuba's nascent private sector, even as the centrally planned economy hit its first recession in nearly a quarter century. Many Cubans did better. But most lives remained a grinding daily struggle. Jubilation faded to resignation.

    President Donald Trump on Friday is expected to give America's Cuba policy its second 180-degree spin in three years during an appearance in Miami, reviving the Cold War goal of starving Cuba's communist system of cash while inciting the population to overthrow it. On the table: cutbacks on U.S. travel to Cuba and a ban on doing business with the military-linked conglomerate that controls much of the Cuban economy.

    Ordinary Cubans are bracing for the worst. Across the island, people of all ages, professions and political beliefs expect rising tensions, fewer American visitors and a harder time seeing relatives in the U.S. And while some Cuban exiles in South Florida are celebrating, others question the wisdom of undoing a policy that had started showing results by increasing the number of Cubans economically independent of the government.

    In 1980, some 125,000 Cubans fled the port of Mariel on boats to the U.S. in the largest single exodus of refugees in modern Cuban history. Today, the city 30 miles west of Havana is home to the county's main cargo facility, where freighters unload containers of supplies for the country's booming tourism industry.

    A few miles from the gates of the port, 42-year-old Yosvani Reinoso works as a self-employed locksmith from a stand on Mariel's main square

    He hasn't seen his life improve much since the U.S. and Cuba re-established friendly relations, but the restart of commercial flights after a half-century gave his wife hope she could afford to visit her 19-year-old son who emigrated to the U.S. two years ago.

    Trump's looming policy change has her worried that the cheaper, more convenient flights could soon be a thing of the past.

    "All of the problems between the two countries need to end so she can go to the U.S. Embassy and say, `I want to see my son,' buy a ticket and go for the weekend,'' Reinoso said. "The best thing that can happen for the two countries is for all of these problems to end, for everything to be normal.''

    In Havana, 53-year-old hairdresser Dioslans Castillo said Obama's 2016 visit to Havana and his calls for Cubans to seize control of their economic destiny had inspired him to try to open a bar with gourmet food and cultural activities for LGBT Cubans.

    "Obama incentivized entrepreneurship,'' Castillo said. "His visit influenced society because the people saw the so-called opening, despite it happening in slow steps compared to the rhetoric. But with Trump, it's all going to crash.''

    Speaking from Miami, where he was working with anti-Castro Cuban-American groups ahead of Friday's announcement, Cuban dissident Antonio Rodiles said he supports Trump's plans and many ordinary Cubans do as well.

    "Many, many people are telling me that we have to squeeze the government once and for all,'' Rodiles said. "And many people I meet in the street have much tougher opinions than mine.''

    Also in Miami, Roberto Pique, who left Cuba at age 15 in 1961, said that even though he wanted the Castro family to leave power, Obama's actions had allowed Cubans to have more access to information. The number of Cuban-Americans traveling to Cuba has increased and the government has opened hundreds of public Wi-Fi spots since the warming, greatly expanding internet access.

    "Obama was a very wise man. He had something in mind, like playing chess with those people, the communists over there,'' he said. "The Cubans have more access to what's happening in the world because there are so many people traveling over there, their families.'' said Pique, a retired juvenile probation officer. "I don't think anything that (Trump) will do will help us get rid of those communists in Cuba. They have survived worse, unfortunately.''

    Even opponents of Obama's policy said they didn't expect much from Trump's proposal.

    "He will make the same promises than the last 10 presidents have made Cuban-Americans here in Miami and nothing happens,'' said Raul Masvidal, 75, a financial adviser who arrived in the U.S. in 1960 from the eastern Cuban city of Camaguey. "Outside the Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961 when you really look back to the last 50 years, nothing has been done. Castro is still there. Different first name.''

    Standing in front of a primary school in Mariel, 56-year-old teacher Juan Manuel Lemus said he had hoped Obama's opening would lead Cuban-Americans to invest in businesses in his decaying industrial hometown, the same way many had poured money into tourist centers like Havana.

    "There are a lot of Americans and Cuban-Americans who have family here and more investment would be good for us,'' he said.

    But his immediate worry was much more personal.

    "I have a son, my oldest, in the United States,'' he said. "I'm afraid, really, about what happens if Trump cuts back relations. He's in Tampa, painting houses, and the more open things are between the U.S. and Cuba, the better."

    Copyright Associated Press / NBC 6 South Florida

    Photo Credit: AP]]>
    <![CDATA[Cubans Being Held in U.S. Now Face Same Deportation Risk]]>Thu, 15 Jun 2017 11:54:43 -0400https://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/042914+cuban+exile+generic.jpg

    Tens of thousands of Cubans living in the U.S. are adapting to a harsh new reality: After enjoying decades of favored status dating back to the Cold War, many of them now face the same deportation risks as any other immigrants.

    They feel betrayed by former President Barack Obama's administration, which in its waning days stripped away a nearly automatic path to citizenship that had been offered since the 1960s to Cubans who arrived on U.S. soil, even those who showed up without a visa. The change was part of a thaw in relations with Cuba, which also agreed to start accepting the return of more of its people who get deported.

    Now some Cubans have been detained at routine appointments with immigration officials, and many more fear they could be imperiled by old deportation orders or caught up in the increased arrests of non-citizens pursued by President Donald Trump's administration.

    “I wasn't prepared for any of this. How could I have seen this coming?'' said Maykel Vargas, a Cuban who spent three months in detention after immigration officials took him into custody when he was trying to renew a temporary document. “I don't know what is going to happen.''

    Anticipation is mounting about a White House announcement on Cuba planned for Friday and how it may affect business deals and leisure travel. But experts agree that Trump's new policy is not expected to restore previous immigration privileges. Any changes open the possibility that the Cuban government could scale back commitments on migration agreements, including promises to take back deportees.

    Vargas, 37, worked as an Uber and Lyft driver to provide for his sister, who is single and pregnant. He said he couldn't afford the $700 required to apply for permanent residency, a much more complex process. He continues fighting deportation after being released Monday with an ankle monitor.

    Hermes Vigoa, 46, wasn't even nervous when he showed up at an immigration office in Miami earlier this year to renew a temporary document he needed for his driver's license and car insurance while he completed the permanent-residency process.

    He arrived in the U.S. two years before Obama canceled the fast-track citizenship system. Cubans still have a path to residency if they find a way to arrive in the U.S. with a visa, but Obama ended the open-arms treatment to curb a recent immigration surge mostly through the Mexico border.

    “I thought everything was fine until an officer told me, `You are in limbo' and told my girlfriend to take all my stuff because I was being detained,'' Vigoa said. He was detained for a month before he was released, without explanation, to continue seeking a green card.

    Immigration officials did not respond to requests for information on these cases.

    Officials say more than 36,000 Cubans currently face deportation orders. About 29,000 are convicted criminals and 7,000 non-criminal immigration violators, according to Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

    Two other Cubans who were taken into custody last month after being here for decades are getting the attention of elected officials. They arrived as children in the famous Mariel boatlift in 1980, when Cuba's then-President Fidel Castro allowed the departure of anyone who wanted to leave the Communist nation. About 125,000 “marielitos'' crossed the Florida Straits that year.

    Both men have criminal convictions but insist they have turned their lives around.

    In 1984, the nations agreed on a list of 2,746 Cubans who were alleged criminals and could be returned to the island. When the U.S. abandoned the ``wet foot, dry foot'' policy in January, the two nations agreed that the list could be revised to add other Cuban “marielitos'' who were subject to active deportation orders.

    Rudy Blanco was 8 when he was brought from the port of Mariel by his parents in 1980. He now has a family and owns a home-remodeling business in Perry, Florida. But because he was convicted of attempting to sell cocaine in 1998, he wasn't allowed to become a U.S. citizen and instead received an order of deportation by mail in 2005.

    Blanco was allowed to stay as long as he made routine visits to ICE. However, he was arrested on May 9 and is now awaiting deportation. An ICE spokeswoman said only that the agency intends to deport him based on the 2005 order.

    Blanco's wife, Shelly, said that both Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and the family's congressman, Rep. Neal Dunn, have told her they are trying to gather information on the case. Both men are Republicans.

    Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, a Democrat, pardoned another Cuban immigrant for an armed robbery committed 19 years ago, in an effort to stave off his deportation. Rene Lima-Marin, 38, arrived as a toddler in the boatlift and 20 years later received a deportation order after his conviction.

    Apart from the Mariel list, Cuba has agreed to review deportations on a case-by-case basis. Fifty-seven Cubans have been deported since October, while 335 were arrested between Jan. 22 and April 29.

    Susan Eckstein, a sociology professor at Boston University, argues that Cubans' immigration privileges should end to make immigration policy more equitable for all foreign nationals.

    “I would be very surprised if Trump changes Obama's policy because it is so consistent with his stance on immigration in general,'' she said.

    Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
    <![CDATA[Plans to Travel to Cuba Could Be Impacted by Policy Change]]>Wed, 14 Jun 2017 18:55:58 -0400https://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/AHORA-CUBA3.jpg

    Traveling to Cuba is easier now than before with commercial flights between Miami and the island.

    The changes implemented during the Obama administration have allowed many like Tony Barroso to travel there more easily.

    "I would definitely like to go back," Barroso said.  "My plans are being there next year."

    In November, then president-elect Donald Trump criticized the changes, tweeting:  "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 the deal."

    On Friday, the President is expected to be in Miami to announce what could change the policy again.

    "When it came to travel while my father was alive, he was very passionate against any moves toward the relaxation of sanctions against Cuba," said Greg Guiteras, CEO of Lorraine Travel.

    That’s why he at first, stood on the sidelines when the changes happened, he said. But when a major airline asked him to support their efforts to expand travel to Cuba, Guiteras decided to try to tap into that market.

    "We invested efforts, finances, resources and the clicks didn’t come in, the bookings didn’t materialize," he said.

    Tourism to Cuba is still prohibited. Under President Obama, there was an easing of travel restrictions, allowing people traveling from the U.S. to self-certify their trips under one of 12 authorized categories.  To read more about those categories, click here.

    "We’ve heard that there’s little to no enforcement," Guiteras said.

    But if President Trump changes US policy this week, travelers could be impacted. That’s why Guiteras would recommend that his clients take steps to protect their money.

    “I wouldn’t sell you a trip to Cuba without insurance first,” he said, adding that the insurance you buy should have a “cancel for any reason” clause to make sure you can recover most of your money.

    Guiteras and his family are keeping an eye on what happens this week. So is Barroso, who is planning to wait to hear what the president says Friday, before starting to plan another trip to the island.

    “With this new administration, I’m going to see and play it day-by-day,” he said. “I don’t have any other choice.”

    If you purchase a ticket with a major airline, there is a good chance you’ll be able to get your money back or, at the very least, receive a credit if the policy changes impact your flights, Guiteras said.

    If you buy a cancel-for-any-reason insurance policy, it’s important to keep in mind that those plans will only refund up to 75% of the total cost of your trip.

    Photo Credit: Bloomberg via Getty Images]]>
    <![CDATA[Trump to Announce Cuba Policy in Miami Next Week: Source]]>Sat, 10 Jun 2017 03:28:07 -0400https://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/693438036-Donald-Trump.jpg

    President Donald Trump is expected to announce plans to undo Obama-era Cuba policies in Miami next Friday, a source with knowledge of the visit told NBC 6/Telemundo 51.

    Trump will travel to Miami to detail the plan, which has been in the works for weeks. The location of the announcement has not been made public.

    Several sources told NBC News last week the White House's plan to reverse U.S.-Cuba policies. Trump would announce the rollback in an executive order, citing human rights abuses on the communist-run island, according to NBC News.

    The rollback is unlikely to completely sever diplomatic ties or shutter the U.S. Embassy in Havana, but it would prohibit business with the Cuban military, according to a Trump administration official and a person involved in the ongoing policy review.

    Towards the end of former President Barack Obama's term, policies were changed to allow travel from the U.S. to the isolated country, and reauthorized U.S. businesses to operate in Cuba. Obama's approach to Cuba was one of engagement, his administration arguing that isolationist tactics would not fix Cuba's communist government.

    In January, the Obama administration ended the "wet foot, dry foot" policy, which allowed any Cuban who made it to U.S. soil to stay and become a legal resident. He did this in an effort to treat the citizens of Cuba like every other country. 

    Photo Credit: Win McNamee/Getty Images]]>
    <![CDATA[Trump Considering a Rollback of Obama's Cuba Policy]]>Thu, 01 Jun 2017 17:28:17 -0400https://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/cuba-flag-GettyImages-481396786.jpg

    President Donald Trump is considering rolling back Obama-era policies on opening diplomatic relations with Cuba, several sources told NBC News. The sources cautioned, however, that no final decisions have been made. 

    The rollback is unlikely to completely sever diplomatic ties or shutter the U.S. Embassy in Havana, but may include reimposing limits on banking, people-to-people exchanges, exporting Cuban cigars and rum, and other measures. 

    A number of congressional leaders, including Florida GOP Sen. Marco Rubio, have been vocal critics of the Obama administration's deals with Raul Castro. Rubio is said to be a key player in pushing Trump toward undoing the current policies, NBC News reported. 

    Critics of the rollback in diplomatic relations include the Chamber of Commerce, states that export agricultural products to Cuba and intelligence agencies that have benefited from improved intelligence sharing. 

    "I think it's been a success, but it doesn't have the kind of impact that the Obama administration hoped," said Dr. Jorge Duany with the FIU Cuban Research Institute. "The idea was this people-to-people contact would open up the Cuban economy and eventually provide for a more democratic Cuba. That hasn't happened."

    President Trump would announce the plan in Miami in an executive order, citing human rights abuses on the communist-run island, according to NBC News. 

    In January, the Obama administration ended the "wet foot, dry foot" policy, which allowed any Cuban who made it to U.S. soil to stay and become a legal resident.

    Photo Credit: Bloomberg via Getty Images]]>
    <![CDATA[With Lacoste, Mont Blanc, Socialist Cuba Has 1st Luxury Mall]]>Tue, 09 May 2017 15:36:33 -0400https://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/050917+cuba+mall.jpg

    The saleswomen in L'Occitane en Provence's new Havana store make $12.50 a month. The acacia eau de toilette they sell costs $95.20 a bottle. Rejuvenating face cream is $162.40 an ounce.

    A few doors down, a Canon EOS camera goes for $7,542.01. A Bulgari watch, $10,200.

    In the heart of the capital of a nation founded on ideals of social equality, the business arm of the Cuban military has transformed a century-old shopping arcade into a temple to conspicuous capitalism.

    With the first Cuban branches of L'Occitane, Mont Blanc and Lacoste, the Manzana de Gomez mall has become a sociocultural phenomenon since its opening a few weeks ago, with Cubans wandering wide-eyed through its polished-stone passages.

    Older Cubans are stunned at the sight of goods worth more than a lifetime's state salary. Teenagers and young adults pose for Facebook photos in front of store windows, throwing victory signs in echoes of the images sent by relatives in Miami, who pose grinning alongside 50-inch TV sets and luxury convertibles.

    The Cuban armed forces' business arm has become the nation's biggest retailer, importer and hotelier since Gen. Raul Castro became president in 2008.

    Gaviota, the military's tourism company, is in the midst of a hotel building spree. The military corporation Cimex, created two decades ago, counts retail stories, auto-rental businesses and even a recording studio among its holdings. The military retail chain TRD has hundreds of shops across Cuba that sell everything from soap to home electronics at prices often several times those in nearby countries.

    The military-run Mariel port west of Havana has seen double-digit growth fueled largely by demand in the tourism sector and the armed forces last year took over the bank that does business with foreign companies, assuming control of most of Cuba's day-to-day international financial transactions.

    On a recent weekday, Oswell Mendez and the members of his hip-hop dance group De Freak posed for their Facebook page in the center of the Manzana, on the spot where a bust of early 20th century Cuban Communist leader Julio Antonio Mella sat before it was removed in the building's multi-year renovation.

    "This is a high-end spot, really nice," said Mendez, 24. "It's something we haven't seen before."

    The five-story Manzana sits off the Prado, the broad, tree-lined boulevard that divides the colonial heart of the city. The upper floors are a five-star hotel opening in early June that is owned by the military's tourism arm, Gaviota, and run by Swiss luxury chain Kempinski. Along the bisecting galleries of the Manzana's ground floor, TRD Caribe and Cimex - host the luxury brands along with Cuban stores selling lesser-known but still pricey products aimed at Cuba's small but growing upper-middle class, like $6 mini-bottles of shampoo and sets of plates for more than $100.

    A few blocks away, working-class Cubans live in decaying apartments on streets clogged by uncollected trash. With state incomes devastated by long-term stagnation and inflation, there's barely money for food, let alone home repairs or indulgences.

    "This hurts because I can't buy anything," said Rodolfo Hernandez Torres, a 71-year-old retired electrical mechanic who lives on a salary of $12.50 a month. "There are people who can come here to buy things but it's maybe one in 10. Most of the country doesn't have the money."

    L'Occitane, Lacoste, Mont Blanc and the Cuban military's business wing did not return requests for comment.

    With its economy in recession and longstanding oil aid from Venezuela in doubt, the Cuban government appears torn between the need for market-based reforms and the fear of social inequality that would spawn popular dissatisfaction and calls for political change.

    With other sectors declining, Cuba's increasingly important tourism industry is under pressure to change its state-run hotels' reputation for charging exorbitant prices for rooms and food far below international standards. The Manzana de Gomez Kempinski bills itself as Cuba's first real five-star hotel, and the brand-name shops around it appear designed to reinforce that.

    The hotel is earning positive early reviews but many tourists say they find the luxury mall alongside it to be repulsive.

    "I was very disappointed," said Jeannie Goldstein, who works in sports marketing in Chicago and ended a six-day trip to Cuba, her first, on Saturday.

    "I came here to get away from this," she said. "This screams wealth and America to us."

    The Prado boulevard was the scene of Cuba's previous record for a state-sponsored display of exorbitant consumerism. Last May, the government closed the boulevard for a private runway show by French luxury label Chanel for a crowd that included actors Tilda Swinton and Vin Diesel and supermodel Gisele Bundchen.

    The temporary privatization of a street for an international corporation built on exclusivity and luxury generated widespread revulsion in Cuba and an unusually angry reaction among writers and intellectuals. Cuba's culture minister resigned two months later, with no reason given for his departure.

    Many other Cubans were delighted by Chanel and adore the Manzana de Gomez, saying it's the sign the country knows its future depends on opening itself to foreign wealth.

    "These stores are for millionaires. Attracting tourists with money, that's development, capitalism," said Maritza Garcia, a 55-year-old airline office worker. "Everything that's development is good. Bit by bit the country is lifting itself up. We're a socialist country but the economy has to be a capitalist one."

    Copyright Associated Press / NBC 6 South Florida

    Photo Credit: AP Video]]>
    <![CDATA[Protester With US Flag Disrupts Cuba's May Day Parade]]>Mon, 01 May 2017 13:52:59 -0400https://media.nbcmiami.com/images/180*120/AP_17121542065474-sm.jpg

    A protester has briefly disrupted the start of Cuba's largest annual political event, sprinting in front of May Day marchers with a U.S. flag before being tackled and dragged away.

    President Raul Castro watched along with other military and civilian leaders and foreign dignitaries as the man broke through security and ran ahead of the tens of thousands in the pro-government march.

    Plainclothes officers struggled to control the man but eventually lifted him off the ground and hauled him away in front of foreign and Cuban journalists covering the parade.

    Monday's protest was a surprising breach of security at a government-organized event where agents line the route.

    Castro has said he will step down as president in February, making this his last May Day parade as head of state.

    Copyright Associated Press / NBC 6 South Florida

    Photo Credit: AP]]>
    <![CDATA[Cuban Military Plane Crashes, Killing 8 Troops on Board]]>Sun, 30 Apr 2017 10:47:42 -0400https://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/021814+cuba+flag+generic.jpg

    A Cuban military plane crashed into a hillside Saturday morning in the western province of Artemisa, killing eight troops on board, the government said.

    Cuba's military said in a statement that the Soviet-made AN-26 took off from the Playa Baracoa airport outside Havana at 6:38 a.m. and crashed outside the town of Candelaria about 40 miles away.

    The military said a special commission would investigate the crash. The weather was clear and sunny.

    Officials did not immediately release any further information.

    In November 2010, an AeroCaribbean flight from Santiago to Havana went down in bad weather as it flew over central Cuba, killing all 68 people aboard, including 28 foreigners, in the country's deadliest air disaster in more than two decades. In 1989, a chartered Cubana de Aviacion plane en route from Havana to Milan, Italy, went down shortly after takeoff, killing all 126 people on board, as well as at least two dozen on the ground.

    Copyright Associated Press / NBC 6 South Florida

    Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
    <![CDATA[Elian Gonzalez Documentary Premiering at Film Festival]]>Wed, 19 Apr 2017 12:46:06 -0400https://media.nbcmiami.com/images/160*120/2000+Elian+Gonzalez.jpg

    A new documentary that tells the story of Elian Gonzalez, the Cuban boy who was involved in an international custody battle in Miami, is set to premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival.

    "Elian" will premiere Friday at the festival in New York, and is expected to be in theaters in May.

    The film, narrated by actor Raul Esparza, features an interview with the now 23-year-old Gonzalez, who still lives in Cuba.

    Gonzalez was just shy of his sixth birthday when the small boat that was carrying him, his mother and a dozen others went down near Florida in November 1999. Gonzalez's mother was among those who died, but he was found floating in an inner tube, rescued and taken to the United States.

    A bitter court battle ensued between Gonzalez's father, who demanded the boy be returned to him in Cuba, and Miami relatives, who insisted he stay with them.

    The case culminated with a dramatic raid on a house where U.S. federal agents retrieved Gonzalez at gunpoint, and he was flown back to the island in June 2000.

    Photo Credit: AP]]>
    <![CDATA[Spirit Airlines Announces End of Flights to Cuba]]>Fri, 14 Apr 2017 15:08:13 -0400https://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/Spirit+Airlines+1200.jpg

    Another U.S. airline – this time, South Florida’s own Spirit Airlines – is getting out of the business when it comes to flights between America and Cuba.

    The low cost air carrier, which is based in Miramar, said the final flights between Fort Lauderdale / Hollywood International Airport and Havana will take place on May 31st.

    “We really wanted [Fort Lauderdale-to-Havana] to work, especially being South Florida’s hometown airline... and the ultra-low cost leader to the Caribbean, but the costs of serving Havana continue to outweigh the demand for service,” said Bob Fornaro, Spirit’s president and CEO.

    The decision comes just over four months after the airline started twice daily service between the cities – part of the growing boom of flights from different companies that took place after relations began to be restored between the two countries under former President Barack Obama.

    Spirit Airlines will offer once daily flights between the cities from May 3rd to the 24th, going back to twice daily flights for the final week of service. Customers who booked flights for the afternoon will be placed on a morning flight, while those who booked flights after May 31st will receive a full refund.

    Photo Credit: Joe Raedle/Getty Images]]>
    <![CDATA[Cubans Say They Entered US Before End of Immigration Policy]]>Tue, 28 Mar 2017 19:25:53 -0400https://media.nbcmiami.com/images/219*120/cuban+flag.jpg

    A group of 11 Cuban immigrants being detained in South Texas are fighting deportation after alleging they were wrongly turned away while trying to enter the United States just before a long-standing immigration policy that allowed any Cuban who made it to U.S. soil to stay and become a legal resident was rescinded.

    Jorge Rivera, an attorney for the immigrants, said some tried to enter the U.S. from Mexico through the port of entry in Laredo under the so-called "wet foot, dry foot'' policy on Jan. 11 and were told to return the next day. Others tried to enter on Jan. 12 and were given appointments for later that day.

    The "wet foot, dry foot" policy sent back Cubans intercepted at sea but gave those who reached land an automatic path to legal residency.

    On the afternoon of Jan. 12, President Barack Obama announced the end to the policy as a part of normalizing ties between the U.S. and Cuba.

    "We don't know if they were doing this on purpose and telling Cubans that came in the day before, in the days that led up to the change, to come on the day of the change because they already knew (the Cuban immigrants) weren't going to be issued'' permission to enter the U.S., said Rivera, who is based in Miami.

    Rick Pauza, a spokesman for U.S. Customs and Border Protection, said his agency can't comment on the administrative proceedings in any specific case but ``the matter has been brought to our attention, we are looking into it and will take appropriate action."

    The change in policy forces Cubans to follow the same rules as immigrants from other countries and formally apply for legal immigration status.

    Rivera is arguing the 11 Cuban immigrants qualified for entry under the "wet foot, dry foot" policy because they had entered the U.S. just before the Obama administration announced the end of the policy.

    Irina Feijoo, whose husband Adalberto Agramonte Perez is one of the 11 immigrants being held at two detention centers in Laredo, said her husband entered the U.S. on the morning of Jan. 12 and was given an appointment for later that evening.

    As he and some of the other immigrants were waiting for their appointments or were in the middle of being processed, an official told them the policy was rescinded and they would have to return to Mexico or be taken into custody, she said.

    "The policy is to touch American soil, not to be processed. They touched American soil," said Feijoo, who entered the U.S. legally on Jan. 9 separate from her husband because of her Portuguese citizenship.

    The couple had left Cuba in 2010 and lived in Spain until 2013, when they moved to Ecuador. They remained there until January.

    Since December 2014, when Obama announced a new detente with Cuba, an estimated 100,000 Cubans have left the island fearing their privileged access to the U.S. might end. Many of those flew to South American countries and embarked on an overland odyssey to the Mexico-U.S. border.

    Feijoo, 53, who is living in West Palm Beach, Florida, said she's hopeful her 52-year-old husband and the other immigrants will be released.

    Rivera said he is also hopeful as he helped another immigrant, a Cuban woman who was also detained after being turned away from the Laredo port of entry on Jan. 11, gain her freedom in February. In that case, Rivera said he was able to verify the date of the woman's entry into the U.S.

    Copyright Associated Press / NBC 6 South Florida

    Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
    <![CDATA[Cubans Still Trying to Reach US by Sea Despite Rule Change]]>Mon, 20 Mar 2017 18:28:51 -0400https://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/GettyImages-2193978.jpg

    Cubans are still making risky sea journeys to the U.S. despite the end of a policy that allowed them to stay if they made it to American soil, officials said Monday.

    The U.S. Coast Guard said it intercepted 65 Cubans trying to reach Florida or Puerto Rico since Jan. 12. That's when former President Barack Obama ended the so-called "wet foot, dry foot" policy as part of the normalization of relations with Cuba.

    The change means Cubans are no longer generally granted the right to stay upon reaching the U.S. Now they must have a visa or prove a credible fear of persecution like migrants from other countries.

    The Coast Guard had no statistics Monday for the same period in 2016. The agency caught nearly 2,000 in the three months before the change, suggesting that far fewer are attempting what can be a dangerous voyage across the Florida Straits or through the Mona Passage to Puerto Rico.

    "We discourage anyone from taking to the sea and attempting to reach U.S. soil illegally," said Capt. Aldante Vinciguerra, chief of response for the Coast Guard 7th District. "They are risking their lives with very little chance of success."

    At least some may believe that the longstanding preferential immigration policy didn't really end in January or they want to test it, said Sebastian Arcos, associate director of the Cuban Research Institute at Florida International University.

    "Others are simply taking a risk to live in the U.S. illegally," Arcos said.

    Cuba's government had long sought the repeal of the "wet foot, dry foot" policy, which it said encouraged its citizens to risk crossing by sea and contributed to a brain drain of professionals.

    The Jan. 12 decision by Washington to end it was part of the restoration of relations that began in December 2014 and followed months of negotiations focused in part on getting Havana to agree to take back people who had arrived in the United States.

    Copyright Associated Press / NBC 6 South Florida

    Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
    <![CDATA[Frontier Airlines, Silver Airways Dropping Service to Cuba]]>Mon, 13 Mar 2017 17:58:15 -0400https://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/Frontier-Airlines-Airport-Terminal.jpg

    Frontier Airlines and Silver Airways are dropping air service to Cuba, saying other airlines are adding too many flights to the island nation and making the routes unprofitable.

    U.S. airlines rushed to begin flights to Cuba last year after the Obama administration allowed commercial service for the first time in more than half a century. More Americans are visiting Cuba, but the glut of new flights has exceeded demand, resulting in many empty seats.

    Florida-based Silver said Monday that it will end Cuba service on April 22, just six months after it started flying between Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and Cuban provincial capitals like Camaguey and Cienfuegos. Several of its Cuban destinations are also served by major carriers such as American Airlines.

    Silver spokeswoman Misty Pinson said the number of seats on planes between the U.S. and Cuba quadrupled because the airlines added so many flights, many of them with big planes. The glut of seats has made Cuban routes unprofitable for all carriers, she said.

    Denver-based Frontier Airlines will cancel its daily flight between Miami and Havana on June 4, said spokesman Jim Faulkner, because of heavy competition and higher-than-expected costs of providing service at the Havana airport.

    The bigger airlines have not been immune. American reduced daily flights to Cuba from 13 to 10 and switched to smaller planes on some flights. Changes were on flights to smaller Cuban cities; American has not downgraded service to Havana. JetBlue Airways took out about 300 seats a day by using smaller planes.

    Commercial air service helped fuel an historic, ongoing boom in U.S. travel to Cuba. About 285,000 tourists visited in 2016, up 76 percent from 2015, and the Cuban government says U.S. visitors increased 125 percent in January.

    Copyright Associated Press / NBC 6 South Florida

    Photo Credit: AP]]>
    <![CDATA[Shoot Down of Brothers to the Rescue Flight Remembered]]>Fri, 24 Feb 2017 12:52:57 -0400https://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]]>Thu, 23 Feb 2017 00:58:44 -0400https://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

    <![CDATA[US Senators Say Raul Castro Eager to Maintain US Relations]]>Wed, 22 Feb 2017 15:44:03 -0400https://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[680 Cubans Returned Since End of 'Wet Foot, Dry Foot']]>Sat, 18 Feb 2017 13:38:49 -0400https://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 02:31:58 -0400https://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 16:56:30 -0400https://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 14:54:53 -0400https://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 19:58:33 -0400https://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[Cuba Starts Election Cycle, Likely Last of Castro Presidency]]>Wed, 14 Jun 2017 19:05:14 -0400https://media.nbcmiami.com/images/174*120/AP_73387975180-01.jpg

    Cuba is starting an electoral process that is expected to end with President Raul Castro stepping down in February.

    The Council of State says in Wednesday's state media that voting for municipal assemblies will take place on Oct. 22. It doesn't set the date of voting for the country's parliament, which selects the Council of State and the president. Elections are held every five years.

    Castro has said he'll step down as president in February, although he is expected to remain head of the ruling Communist Party.

    Above the municipal level, Cuban elections are choices between candidates preselected by the Cuban Communist Party and related organizations. That guarantees that the country's nominally representative bodies in practice answer to the president and a small group of high-ranking officials.

    Copyright Associated Press / NBC 6 South Florida

    Photo Credit: AP]]>
    <![CDATA[Port Everglades Backs Out of Agreement With Cuban Government]]>Thu, 26 Jan 2017 20:34:20 -0400https://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 21:17:24 -0400https://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 18:55:56 -0400https://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 08:31:36 -0400https://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 19:12:41 -0400https://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

    <![CDATA[President-Elect Trump's Previous Wet Foot, Dry Foot Comments]]>Fri, 13 Jan 2017 13:10:51 -0400https://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
    This story uses functionality that may not work in our app. Click here to open the story in your web browser.]]>
    <![CDATA[Reaction Mixed After Elimination of 'Wet Foot, Dry Foot' ]]>Fri, 13 Jan 2017 19:44:17 -0400https://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 01:01:24 -0400https://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.

    <![CDATA[How Policy Change Impacts Cuban Migrants]]>Fri, 13 Jan 2017 01:02:24 -0400https://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 18:12:45 -0400https://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 01:05:13 -0400https://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 19:42:13 -0400https://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 18:33:13 -0400https://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 01:04:37 -0400https://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 08:57:03 -0400https://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 14:42:25 -0400https://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 16:24:30 -0400https://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 12:09:44 -0400https://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 23:58:57 -0400https://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.

    <![CDATA[Sources: Google to Give Cubans Faster Access to Content]]>Sat, 10 Dec 2016 16:59:59 -0400https://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 16:44:58 -0400https://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 15:04:07 -0400https://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

    <![CDATA[Fidel Castro's Ashes Interred in Private Ceremony in Cuba]]>Sun, 04 Dec 2016 19:36:06 -0400https://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 22:04:21 -0400https://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 17:31:47 -0400https://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 12:08:19 -0400https://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 01:12:02 -0400https://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. 

    <![CDATA[American Airlines Cutting Number of Flights to Cuba ]]>Thu, 01 Dec 2016 14:02:36 -0400https://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 18:59:55 -0400https://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 19:39:48 -0400https://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 19:55:20 -0400https://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.

    <![CDATA[Hundreds Attend Cuban Unity Rally in Miami]]>Thu, 01 Dec 2016 12:32:27 -0400https://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 22:29:19 -0400https://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.

    <![CDATA[Man Jailed For Refusing to Mourn Castro's Death: Family]]>Wed, 30 Nov 2016 00:44:07 -0400https://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 21:48:56 -0400https://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 19:29:35 -0400https://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 20:17:15 -0400https://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 16:10:16 -0400https://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 16:55:51 -0400https://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

    <![CDATA[Millennials Prepare For Potential Role In Evolving Cuba]]>Mon, 28 Nov 2016 19:08:33 -0400https://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 19:07:35 -0400https://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. 

    <![CDATA[Emotional Video When Grandmother Learns of Castro's Death]]>Tue, 29 Nov 2016 14:40:39 -0400https://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
    This story uses functionality that may not work in our app. Click here to open the story in your web browser.]]>
    <![CDATA[Emilio Estefan Talks About Castro's Death]]>Sun, 27 Nov 2016 19:37:24 -0400https://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]]>Tue, 29 Nov 2016 00:50:31 -0400https://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.

    <![CDATA[Social Media Reacts to Castro's Death With Mixed Emotions]]>Sun, 27 Nov 2016 17:53:43 -0400https://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 16:43:49 -0400https://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
    This story uses functionality that may not work in our app. Click here to open the story in your web browser.]]>
    <![CDATA[Former Cuban Prisoner Alan Gross Reacts to Castro's Death]]>Sun, 27 Nov 2016 16:02:38 -0400https://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."

    <![CDATA[Cousin of Fidel Castro Pays Tribute to Late Cuban Leader]]>Sun, 27 Nov 2016 15:29:03 -0400https://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.

    <![CDATA[Rubio: Tie US-Cuba Changes to Democratic Reforms on Island]]>Sun, 27 Nov 2016 11:49:33 -0400https://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 23:36:56 -0400https://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 08:33:22 -0400https://media.nbcmiami.com/images/213*120/Fidel-Castro1.jpg

    Quotes from Fidel Castro:


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


    "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. 


    "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.


    "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.


    "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.


    "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.


    "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.


    "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. 


    "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. 


    "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 07:25:42 -0400https://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 07:39:41 -0400https://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.

    <![CDATA[Elian Gonzalez Mourns Death of Fidel Castro]]>Sat, 26 Nov 2016 23:24:02 -0400https://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 15:07:23 -0400https://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.”

    <![CDATA[Fidel Castro's Estranged Sister Will Not Attend Funeral]]>Sat, 26 Nov 2016 19:48:48 -0400https://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.

    <![CDATA[Coast Guard Not Anticipating Migration After Castro's Death]]>Sat, 26 Nov 2016 16:16:31 -0400https://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.

    <![CDATA[South Florida Reacts To Fidel Castro's Death]]>Mon, 28 Nov 2016 17:54:38 -0400https://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 07:37:09 -0400https://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."

    <![CDATA[Timeline of Fidel Castro's Regime as Cuban Leader]]>Sat, 26 Nov 2016 11:34:03 -0400https://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 08:11:29 -0400https://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 07:05:48 -0400https://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 05:45:53 -0400https://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 04:48:31 -0400https://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 04:24:14 -0400https://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.

    <![CDATA[Video of Raul Castro Announcing Death of Fidel Castro]]>Sat, 26 Nov 2016 03:57:52 -0400https://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 04:30:13 -0400https://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.

    <![CDATA[South Florida Reacts To Castro's Death]]>Mon, 28 Nov 2016 13:05:50 -0400https://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 20:31:55 -0400https://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.

    <![CDATA[Critic of Obama's Cuba Plan Named to Trump's Transition Team]]>Tue, 22 Nov 2016 08:05:45 -0400https://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 20:26:38 -0400https://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

    <![CDATA[Trump Presidency Could Affect US-Cuba Policy]]>Wed, 09 Nov 2016 21:37:16 -0400https://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.

    <![CDATA[Man Accused of Forcing 6 Cuban Women Into Prostitution]]>Fri, 04 Nov 2016 15:06:50 -0400https://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

    <![CDATA[Portugal President Meets Fidel Castro in Cuba]]>Thu, 27 Oct 2016 16:22:00 -0400https://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

    <![CDATA[US Abstains on UN Vote on Cuba Embargo]]>Wed, 26 Oct 2016 17:10:49 -0400https://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 08:48:57 -0400https://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.

    <![CDATA[Cuba Suspends New Licenses For Private Restaurants]]>Mon, 17 Oct 2016 21:12:40 -0400https://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 19:20:56 -0400https://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 13:19:59 -0400https://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 11:55:31 -0400https://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 19:29:38 -0400https://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 20:37:48 -0400https://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.

    <![CDATA[Cuba Announces Major Wi-Fi Expansion on Iconic Malecon]]>Wed, 21 Sep 2016 20:45:24 -0400https://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 20:21:28 -0400https://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 21:21:25 -0400https://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.

    <![CDATA[Airlines Pulling Cuban-Americans Off Flight Crews to Country]]>Fri, 16 Sep 2016 21:39:39 -0400https://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]]>Thu, 15 Sep 2016 00:11:16 -0400https://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.

    <![CDATA[Cuba Internet Freedom Conference Starting in Miami]]>Mon, 12 Sep 2016 20:24:54 -0400https://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 12:41:53 -0400https://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 23:33:28 -0400https://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 23:29:34 -0400https://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 10:18:51 -0400https://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 13:07:07 -0400https://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 12:47:11 -0400https://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 11:50:16 -0400https://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 11:52:16 -0400https://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 08:52:09 -0400https://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 15:44:06 -0400https://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.

    <![CDATA[Cubans Land at Southernmost Landmark in Key West]]>Wed, 13 Jul 2016 15:08:22 -0400https://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 14:05:32 -0400https://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 13:30:22 -0400https://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 18:55:59 -0400https://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 17:46:37 -0400https://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 19:17:51 -0400https://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 10:37:42 -0400https://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 19:01:38 -0400https://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 16:16:33 -0400https://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 20:16:54 -0400https://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 21:44:38 -0400https://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 15:03:21 -0400https://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 21:03:20 -0400https://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 11:39:33 -0400https://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 19:47:57 -0400https://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 23:28:18 -0400https://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 14:42:59 -0400https://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 22:33:01 -0400https://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 18:08:16 -0400https://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 14:23:11 -0400https://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 23:31:30 -0400https://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 23:31:22 -0400https://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 21:13:25 -0400https://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 20:59:56 -0400https://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 11:50:16 -0400https://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.

    <![CDATA[Fashionistas Jam Chanel Fashion Show in Havana]]>Wed, 04 May 2016 15:25:20 -0400https://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 23:39:33 -0400https://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 23:39:07 -0400https://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
    This story uses functionality that may not work in our app. Click here to open the story in your web browser.]]>
    <![CDATA[11 Cubans on 1984 List Deported]]>Fri, 29 Apr 2016 19:48:28 -0400https://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 17:21:56 -0400https://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 13:09:43 -0400https://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 18:45:31 -0400https://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 23:26:04 -0400https://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 15:35:05 -0400https://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 15:11:54 -0400https://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 19:36:25 -0400https://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 16:08:39 -0400https://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 21:12:34 -0400https://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 17:20:30 -0400https://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 23:33:20 -0400https://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 22:53:37 -0400https://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 19:03:03 -0400https://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 18:58:37 -0400https://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 17:32:34 -0400https://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 23:01:51 -0400https://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 16:42:26 -0400https://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]]>