Entries in Cuba (42)


US Says Cuba Still a Global Sponsor of Terror

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- The world's most prolific terrorist groups are supported by the government of Iran, Sudan, Syria and Cuba, according to the U.S. State Department.  But while Iran, Sudan and Syria have well-known and documented current ties to various terrorists groups, Cuba's place on the list has increasingly come under fire.

These four countries are considered "state sponsors of terrorism" that have "repeatedly provided support for acts of international terrorism," according to the United States. They are subject to the harshest sanctions the U.S. can impose, including travel bans, financial transactions and trade.

Last week, the Boston Globe reported that Secretary of State John Kerry is planning to remove Cuba from the list, and that Obama administration officials no longer believe the Caribbean country meets the requirements to be labeled a state sponsor of terror.

State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland told reporters that the Globe's report was untrue.

"This department has no current plans to remove Cuba from the state sponsor of terrorism list," said Nuland.  "We review this every year, and at the current moment we -- when the last review was done in 2012 -- didn't see cause to remove them."

That doesn't mean there aren't advocates within the U.S. government who think America's policy towards Cuba needs to change.

Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., who led a delegation of U.S. lawmakers visiting the country earlier, told reporters that there needs to be more "give and take" between the U.S. and Cuba.

"I think the worst thing that can happen is if we stay either in our country or in their country in this 1960s, 1970s Cold War mentality," Leahy said on CNN's State of the Union.  "We're a different century now.  We should be looking at what's the future for their future and ours, what's the future for their children and our children."

Leahy and the delegation were in Cuba to help free Alan Gross, a U.S. development contractor who's been imprisoned on the island since 2009.  Gross was in Cuba working for the State Department's development agency USAID, installing communications equipment, when Cuban authorities arrested and convicted him of being a spy.  Leahy met with both Gross and President Raul Castro, telling the Cuban president that relations between the countries would improve if Gross were set free.

But the Cubans argue that Gross' imprisonment should not have any bearing on whether the country is considered a sponsor of terrorism.  According to U.S. law, "in order for any country to be designated as a state sponsor of terrorism, the Secretary of State must determine that the government of that country has repeatedly provided support for acts of international terrorism."

Cuba was placed on the list in 1982 for harboring members of the Spanish terror group ETA and members of Columbia's FARC.  In last year's annual Country Reports on Terrorism, the State Department said that Cuba continues "to permit fugitives wanted in the United States to reside in Cuba and also provided support such as housing, food ration books, and medical care for these individuals."

However, the report also acknowledges that Cuba's ties to these groups today are tenuous at best.  The State Department report notes that the Cuban government has actively tried to distance itself from ETA members living on the island, refusing to providing services to some of them.

The report also says that "there was no indication that the Cuban government provided weapons or paramilitary training for either ETA or the FARC" in 2011.

The Cuban government says their continued isolation by the U.S. is not based on terrorism at all, but on politics.

"If you look back in history, and look at the reasons why Cuba was put on the list, those reasons don't exist anymore, but Cuba continues to be included.  Why does Cuba continue to be included?" asked Juan Jacomino, the spokesperson for Cuban intersection in Washington D.C., told ABC News.  "There is a double standard, a lack of moral foundation in the U.S. policy towards Cuba."

He says keeping Cuba on the state sponsor of terror list is the State Department's way of justifying an "outdated" U.S. policy toward Cuba.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


Hugo Chavez Returns to Venezuela. What Happens Next?

Sasha Mordovets/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- Hugo Chávez returned to Venezuela in the early hours of Monday morning, two months after heading to Cuba for cancer surgery.

There are still no images of Chávez's return. But according to government officials, the president arrived around 2:30 a.m. local time on a private flight, and was immediately taken to a military hospital in Caracas. A message published on Chávez's personal Twitter account at 3:42 a.m. confirms this.

"We have arrived in Venezuela once again. Thank you god, thank you my beloved people. We will continue treatment here," says the tweet, which is supposedly written by Chávez himself.

So is this the start of a surprise comeback for the cancer-stricken socialist leader?

Probably not, says Jose Marquina, a Florida-based Venezuelan doctor who claims to get inside info on Chávez's closely guarded health status.

Marquina contends that Chávez's cancer, for which he has had four operations in the past 18 months, has reached a point of no return, and is slowly spreading from his pelvic area into vital organs like the pancreas and the lungs.

"There was no sense for him to be in Cuba, when there are no more treatments that can be offered," Marquina tweeted in Spanish on Monday morning. "At this point of the disease there are no more curative treatments, only palliative ones," the doctor also wrote on his Twitter account.

According to Marquina, Chávez has only two to three months left to live, and could have possibly returned home to spend time with friends and relatives.

Marquina has previously been right about the president's health problems. In January, for example, Marquina said that Chávez was suffering a respiratory infection, a couple days before the Venezuelan government acknowledged this same problem in a public statement.

So what happens next in Venezuela?

One interesting development that could take place is that the Supreme Court formally swears Chávez into his fourth term in office, as the Venezuelan leader missed his swearing in ceremony on January 10.

Such a ceremony would quiet legal challenges from opposition groups, which have been arguing for weeks that there is a power vacuum in the country, and new elections must be held, as Chávez was not officially sworn into his fourth term.

However, if doctor Marquina is right about Chávez's short life expectancy, new elections will have to be held anyway after Chávez dies, or if his frail health condition leads him to retire from office.

According to the Venezuelan constitution, elections have to be "called for" within 30 days of a president´s death or retirement, but the rules are not so clear as to when elections actually have to take place.

Political analysts in Venezuela say that Vice President Nicolas Maduro, a close Chávez ally, is the favorite to win. But this could change if economic problems continue to plague the country and force the government to cut back on social programs. If you consider that opposition candidate Henrique Capriles lost by ten points to Chávez in the October presidential elections, and that Maduro is not as well liked or as charismatic as Chávez, the next election could be pretty close.

Of course there is also the possibility that Chávez will make a surprising recovery and will once again be healthy enough to appear in public, and serve out his presidential term, which runs through 2018.

But chances are slim with even government officials saying last week that his condition is delicate, difficult, and that he is "fighting for his life."

For the moment however, Chávez's surprise comeback provides a glimmer of hope to supporters, who welcomed news of his arrival with fireworks, and even gathered in front of the military hospital where Chávez is staying in Caracas.

Chávez's return also takes away some attention from the daily problems that have beset his government, like soaring crime rates and serious food shortages.

Just last week, the Venezuelan government was also forced to devalue the national currency, the Bolivar, by 30 percent of its value relative to the U.S. dollar. This move was necessary in order for the national oil company PDVSA to get more local cash for each barrel of oil it sells, money which can then be diverted to social programs. But devaluation is also expected to drive up the country´s steep inflation rate, it makes crucial food imports more expensive, and it also means that people´s savings are now worth less. Chávez has returned to Venezuela in the middle of difficult times.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


Hugo Chavez to Undergo Third Cancer Surgery, Names Successor

Sasha Mordovets/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- Venezuela's president Hugo Chavez, 58, announced Saturday night on state television that his pelvic cancer had "returned" and that he is heading to Cuba on Sunday to undergo surgery in the coming days.

Chavez had most recently traveled to Havana on Nov. 27, reportedly to undergo medical treatment that included hyperbaric oxygen, which is meant to heal tissues that have been damaged by radiation treatment.

Chavez said on television that after his re-election on Oct. 7, tests had not shown a sign of cancer, but he had been experiencing swelling and pain. "It's a very sensitive area, so we started to pay a lot of attention to that," he said, adding that during his last trip to Cuba, tests detected the resurgence of "malignant cells."

The planned surgery will be his third. Chavez first underwent surgery in Cuba in June 2011, and had a follow-up surgery last February, also in Havana.

Chavez made another important announcement - the first of its kind since he fell ill - he announced Vice President Nicolas Maduro as his successor. "We should guarantee the advance of the Bolivarian Revolution," said Chavez, whose decision to skip a summit of leaders in Brazil on Friday provided clues that the cancer had returned.

Chavez's most recent TV appearance is his first after a three-week hiatus from public view.

"I hope to give you all good news in the coming days," said Chavez, holding a crucifix. "With God's will, like on the previous occasions, we will come out of this victorious."

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Three Years After Arrest, American Alan Gross Still Jailed in Cuba

Nikki Kahn/The Washington Post(WASHINGTON) -- On the third anniversary of the day a U.S. government sub-contractor was jailed in Cuba for a project he was completing for the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), Washington again called for his release.

After serving three years of a 15-year sentence for what Cuban authorities call "Acts against the Independence or Territorial Integrity of the Cuban State," family members and the Obama administration are asking the Cuban government to let Maryland resident Alan Gross go.

"Mr. Gross is a 63-year-old husband, father, and dedicated professional with a long history of providing assistance and support to underserved communities in more than 50 countries," State Department deputy spokesman Mark Toner said in a statement released Monday.

When he was arrested, Gross was in Cuba working on a project for Development Alternatives, Inc., a company contracted by USAID, according to court documents.

Gross' wife filed a lawsuit on his behalf in November accusing DAI and USAID of failing to fully inform Gross of the risks associated with his tasks in Cuba, and failing to fully train him and supervise the selection process that got him the job. The couple is seeking $20 million in compensation from USAID.

Documents from the lawsuit against USAID say Gross was in Cuba to help "improve Internet access for the Jewish community in Cuba."

The United States has at least a moral responsibility to intervene on Gross' behalf, according to American University Professor Phillip Brenner.

"This work he was doing was on behalf of the United States. Whether they have a legal responsibility, I think the court has to decide that," Brenner said. "Whether they have an ethical -- a moral -- responsibility, there's no question that they do."

President Obama has been following Gross' case and requested that the Cuban government release him, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said Monday at a press briefing.

"The Cuban government should release Alan Gross and return him to his family where he belongs," Carney said.

Appeals for Gross' release have focused on the humanitarian aspect of his imprisonment.

Rabbi David Shneyer visited Gross in fall 2011. In a newsletter to his congregation, Shneyer described how the Cuban jail officials, "created a comfortable space with two couches and a table with refreshments" for him to meet with Gross.

Shneyer told ABC News Gross is doing his best, "to endure his imprisonment emotionally, spiritually and physically."

"I do know that Alan has lost a tremendous [amount] of weight," Shneyer wrote in an email.

Gross has lost more than 100 pounds in the last three years, a fact that Brenner said his wife points to as evidence he might have cancer. According to the Cuban government, Gross tested negative for cancer in October.

 "I wish to inform you that a biopsy of the lesion that Mr. Gross has behind his right shoulder was performed on October 24 last, which confirmed that said lesion is not carcinogenic. The biopsy tested negative for neoplastic cells and it was confirmed that the lesion is made up by isolated muscle cells and extensive areas of red blood-cells that could be associated to a hematoma," José Ramón Cabañas, chief of the Cuban Interests Section in Washington, D.C., wrote in a letter dated Nov. 28, 2012 that was obtained by ABC News. "This test could not be performed before due to Mr. Gross's refusal."

Despite the Cuban official's assurances, Shneyer said, "There are still concerns about the lump on his shoulder."

In Monday's request from the State Department, Toner asked that the Cuban government, "grant Alan Gross's request to travel to the United States to visit his 90-year-old mother, Evelyn Gross, who is gravely ill," calling it a "humanitarian issue."

The letter from Cabañas included a summary of the U.S. case against a group of Cubans, known as the "Cuban Five," being held on espionage charges, about whom he said Cuba has "legitimate humanitarian concerns."

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Cubans Will Be Able to Leave Island Without Permit Next Year

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(HAVANA) -- Cuba will no longer ask its citizens to secure exit permits when they want to travel outside the Communist island.

The state-run newspaper Granma, reported on Tuesday that this change in regulations is part of a broader effort to "update" the island's migration policy and "adjust it to prevailing conditions."

Currently, Cuba is the only country in Latin America where local residents need a special permit to travel abroad.  The process is run by the Ministry of the Interior and has been used in the past to stop political dissidents or highly-skilled individuals from leaving the country.

Granma reported that the travel permit requirement will end on Jan. 13, 2013.  After that date, Cubans who wish to travel abroad will simply have to show up at the airport with a valid passport, just like people in most countries in the world.

The government of Cuba will also allow its citizens living abroad to stay away from the country for up to 24 months, with an option to extend their stay abroad, by applying for an extension at the nearest Cuban embassy.

Currently, Cubans are only allowed to stay away from their country for 11 months.  If they exceed that period, they lose their residency in Cuba, and must forfeit health and education benefits.

According to Granma, these reforms might come with a caveat.

"Measures aimed at preserving the human capital created by the Revolution from the theft of talents practiced by the powerful nations shall remain in force," the newspaper said.

Yoani Sánchez, a dissident blogger who has been denied permission to leave Cuba on 20 separate occasions in the past five years, celebrated the new changes on her Twitter account.

"The first thing I thought when I heard of the new Migration Law 'Fidelism is turning to shreds, its falling apart,'" she tweeted in Spanish.

Sánchez uploaded the new law document online and reports that under the reform the price to obtain a Cuban passport will go up from 55 Cuban pesos to 100 Cuban pesos.  The average Cuban salary, Sánchez tweeted, is 20 Cuban pesos a month.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Guantanamo Detainee Found Dead in Cell

Hemera/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- An unidentified detainee at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba who had been on a hunger strike earlier this year died over the weekend after guards at the U.S. detention facility found him unconscious in his cell. The detainee's name and country of origin are being withheld by the U.S. military until after notifications are made to his family and home government.

U.S. Southern Command announced Monday that during routine checks on Saturday afternoon at the facility, where terror suspects have been held since 2002, Joint Task Force-Guantanamo guards "found the Detainee unconscious and unresponsive."

The guards immediately performed first aid on the detainee and Navy corpsmen were called to assist with the lifesaving efforts. The detainee was then transported to the hospital at the Navy base in Guantanamo where "after extensive lifesaving measures had been performed the detainee was pronounced dead by a physician."

While not able to identify the detainee by name, a spokesperson for JTF-Guantanamo said he was not one of the high-profile detainees currently being tried by the military commissions at Guantanamo. That list includes Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four other detainees accused of plotting the 9/11 attacks.

Since the camp was opened in early 2002, eight other detainees have died while in custody -- six from suicides and the other two from natural causes. The most recent death was in 2011. The detainee's death means there are now 167 detainees at the camp, which at its height held 779 detainees.

The unidentified detainee was one of several at the camp who have been participating in hunger strikes that have been going on at the detention facility for years.

The detainee had ended his hunger strike on June 1 and had recouped 95 percent of his body weight. Hunger strikers at the camp are routinely force fed by medical personnel. A Defense official says that the hunger strikes are more of a political act than a physical act as many take their liquid nutrient feeds willingly and assist medical personnel with the insertion of the food tubes that force-feed them.

The Naval Criminal Investigative Service has initiated an investigation of the incident to determine the cause and manner surrounding the death and an autopsy will be performed.

The Southern Command release says the remains of the deceased detainee are being treated with respect for Islamic culture and traditions. Following the autopsy the remains will be repatriated to his home country.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Daughter of Cuban Vice President Defects to US

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- The adult child of a top Cuban official has found a new home in the U.S.

Glenda Murillo Diaz, 24, made the decision to defect two weeks ago by entering Laredo, Texas from Mexico.  She now lives in Tampa, Fla., where the Republicans are holding their national convention to nominate Mitt Romney for president.

Diaz is the daughter of Cuban Vice President Marino Murillo Jorge.  While he is one of the country's seven vice presidents, Murillo Jorge also belongs to the political bureau of the Cuban Communist Party.

Put in charge of enacting economic reforms in Cuba, that have been slow in coming, it's believed that Murillo Jorge might also have a shot at becoming the president once Raul Castro decides to step down from power.

His daughter's defection might change all that, however.

Many Cubans who've decided to leave their homeland take advantage of a law that allows them to remain on U.S. soil.  It appears Murillo Diaz has done the same.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Diana Nyad Pulled from the Water Before End of Historic Swim

ADALBERTO ROQUE/AFP/Getty Images(KEY WEST, Fla.) -- Endurance swimmer Diana Nyad was pulled from the water early Tuesday morning, prematurely ending her attempted Cuba-to-Florida swim.

Tuesday afternoon, she completed a symbolic swim to the Florida shore and then proceeded to talk about the journey.

"Could I say there is no disappointment?" she asked, pausing to spit water. "No."

She thanked her team and talked to the gathered crowd about her lifelong quest to "cross this ocean," and then seemed to look faint, easing herself down. But she continued to talk.

Would she do it again? The answer seemed to be "no." It wasn't the fatigue, the pain, the hunger or even the circling sharks but the jellyfish that did her in. "With those things, the swim just isn't fun," she said.

Nyad was attempting to become the first person to swim from Cuba to Florida without a shark cage. Wednesday is her 63rd birthday.

[See Photos from Diana Nyad's Journey]

Support crews pulled Nyad out of the water at 12:55 a.m., but they only revealed it hours later as they gave a phone interview to ABC News' Good Morning America.

"We pulled her out of the water," Steven Munatones told Robin Roberts. "The dangers were so great that we couldn't risk anyone's life, including her own."

Munatones was the official observer of the swim and the editor-in-chief of the Daily News of Open Water Swimming.

It was Nyad's fourth attempt to complete the swim.

Support crews monitoring Nyad told GMA that Nyad had severe sunburn, a strained bicep muscle and could barely walk. Her lips and tongue had become increasingly swollen overnight, puffing up because of salt water. Members of her support crew of 63, which included multiple boats, had slathered her face and full-body wetsuit with black-tinted lanolin to keep the jellyfish and the cold at bay.

Team members said she had been struck at least four times by jellyfish during her voyage. Jellyfish stings had also cut short her attempt to make the crossing in 2011. This was Nyad's third attempt to complete the swim in less than a year.

During the arduous journey, which began late Saturday night, Nyad was not allowed to touch or be touched by any of the support crews or vessels. At a pace of 50 strokes a minute, the swim was expected to take 60 hours.

A squall with winds of 14 knots hit the flotilla Sunday and stayed "nearly stationary over" Nyad, forcing her to move northwest in order to try to find a way out of the storm.

Nyad ended her last attempt in September 2011 after more than 40 hours, 67 nautical miles of swimming and two Portuguese man o' war stings.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Diana Nyad: Endurance Swimmer Makes Another Attempt to Swim From Cuba to Florida

ADALBERTO ROQUE/AFP/Getty Images(HAVANA, Cuba) -- Diana Nyad is swimming her way back to America in a new attempt to become the first person to swim to Florida from Cuba without a shark cage.

Nyad, 62, started the 103-mile journey late Saturday night from Havana, Cuba, where she encountered box jellyfishes and has been stung at least four times already.

"Diana is swimming backstroke right now leading with the cap-covered part of her head to minimize contact. There are so many jellyfish..." a member of Nyad's team posted to her Twitter account.

Observer Steve Munatones said on Nyad's official blog that it will be a long, tough journey for the endurance swimmer.

"If this swim is the equivalent of five English Channels, and I think it is, in terms of time, she's just swum one English Channel, 25 percent of it backstroke," he wrote.

Nyad is still swimming at her regular pace of 50 strokes per minute.

"Today is more like swimming. I don't know what you would call last night ... probably surviving," Nyad said according to her blog.

Nyad ended her last attempt in September 2011 after more than 40 hours and 67 nautical miles of swimming, and two Portuguese Man-of-War stings.

"The medical team said I should not go another two nights in the water and risk additional likely Man-of-War stings which could have a long term cumulative effect on my body. But for each of us, isn't life about determining your own finish line? This journey has always been about reaching your own other shore no matter what it is, and that dream continues," Nyad called out to her flotilla of four escort boats from the water, according to her website at the time.

If she had completed that swim, she would have broken her 1979 record, when she swam 102.5 miles from the Bahamas to Florida.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


The Fresh Prince of Bel-Where? Gitmo Loves 90s Sitcom

Hemera/Thinkstock(GUANTANAMO BAY, Cuba) -- Librarians at Guantanamo Bay’s prison detention center have had to up their stock of the popular 1990s TV show The Fresh Prince of Bel Air, starring Will Smith, thanks to the prisoners’ newfound enthusiasm for the sitcom.

The 168 captives currently residing at the U.S. prison base in Cuba have access to an extensive entertainment selection: the main library houses 18,000 books, 2,730 movies, 390 video games, and 1,235 magazines, according to Joint Task Force Guantanamo spokesperson Capt. Jennifer Palmeri. The books and movies are delivered upon requests to prisoners’ cells or recreation rooms by guards. And if the camp doesn’t have the particular book or movie that an inmate wants, camp leadership can buy it for him or her, provided it is vetted for any potential controversy, said Palmeri.

But recently many prisoners have been asking for the same thing: Will Smith as the titular Fresh Prince.

Fresh Prince became popular after a few people watched the first two seasons and decided to request the rest of the series,” Palmeri said.

A camp librarian identified only as Milton said the Fresh Prince show has now surpassed the previous favorite, the Harry Potter books, according to the Miami Herald, which first reported the Fresh Prince’s curious popularity. As the Muslim holy month of Ramadan wears on, entertainment becomes increasingly important for Muslim inmates who are fasting from dawn to sundown, Milton said. The Fresh Prince series has stepped in to fill the void.

The Fresh Prince of Bel Air originally aired in 1990 on NBC and ran for six seasons. The show’s popular theme song kicked off each episode: “Now this is a story all about how my life got flipped, turned upside down,” raps the show’s star Will Smith.

It was that lead role -- in which Smith plays an inner-city teenager from Philadelphia transplanted into the posh home of his relatives in ritzy Bel Air, Calif. -- that launched Smith’s career and transformed him into a household name.

And now the Guantanamo detainees apparently find him endearing as well. The inmates are separated into four security levels, based on their cooperation with guards. About 80 percent of all prisoners are housed in either the communal facility or the maximum security detention center -- but all prisoners can order books or movies from the library, said Palmeri. Those in single-cell solitary confinement can watch movies on a TV installed for their viewing pleasure. Those in less-secure environments watch at a communal television, the screen encased in Plexiglas, according to the Miami Herald.

“One aspect of our mission is to provide activities to the detainees that are mentally and physically engaging,” Palmeri said. Besides reading and watching TV, inmates are offered classes on things like Arabic calligraphy and keyboarding. The art courses, however, are the most popular.

Also popular are the novels in Suzanne Collins’s Hunger Games trilogy, a young adult fantasy series about a violent post-apocalyptic world whose citizens are subjugated by an all-powerful government. The Guantanamo library has two copies of the series for the detainees’ perusal.

In 2005, an American Forces Press Service report noted that Arabic translations of Agatha Christie novels were hot commodities on the camp library’s shelves, according to a security official. Since then, the Harry Potter books enjoyed a period of success, as did the self-help book Don’t Be Sad, which discusses happiness from an Islamic perspective. The library even stocks video games like Madden NFL.

The detainees still at Guantanamo hail from around the world, with the majority claiming roots in Yemen, Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia.

The prison at Guantanamo Bay has been a hot-button political issue as President Barack Obama repeatedly promised to close the controversial prison while he was campaigning for office in 2008, but the facility remains open. A final report released by the Guantanamo Review Task Force in January of 2010 recommended that 48 of the current prisoners be held indefinitely under the laws of war.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

ABC News Radio