October 18 , 2007

The Miami Herald

Minnesota's agriculture commissioner going to Cuba

The Associated Press. Posted on Thu, Oct. 18, 2007.

ST. PAUL -- Ralph Kaehler and farmers like him have done millions of dollars in business with Cuba over the past five years, riding out the ups and downs of the Communist-ruled island's turbulent relations with its capitalist neighbor to the north.

Kaehler has been to Cuba a dozen times since his sons, Cliff and Seth, became special guests at Fidel Castro's 2002 trade show. He says the Cubans are still buying, just not as much.

Next month, Minnesota Agriculture Commissioner Gene Hugoson will visit to Havana to check on the state's declining business prospects there and to see what a post-Castro business environment might look like.

"A lot of it is just showing interest," Hugoson said. "I believe there will be more openness down the road."

Hugoson, who was part of then-Gov. Jesse Ventura's trade mission in 2002, is likely to see a very different Cuba this time.

"The communications back from Havana have been quiet lately," said Kaehler, a St. Charles farmer and a pioneer in cattle sales to Cuba.

Kaehler and other frequent business visitors to Cuba say the country is still hungry for food buys, but has grown weary about depending on U.S. suppliers who have to battle bureaucratic obstacles at home.

"We're seeing a post-Castro era unfold before our very eyes," said Kirby Jones, president of the U.S. Cuba Trade Association, a Washington group that promotes open trade with Cuba.

Minnesota's agricultural exports to Cuba grew to $22 million in 2005 but dropped to $18 million last year. Total U.S. farm exports to Cuba dropped to $321 million last year, down from $346 million in 2005.

The reason, said Kaehler and others who do business with Cuba, is part price-squeeze and part politics.

While soybeans and corn are Minnesota's leading farm exports to Cuba, soaring prices have limited what the cash-strapped regime can buy. Spiking oil prices have pushed shipping costs up, too. And the Bush administration requires sales to be paid for in cash up front.

"It's not easy," said Tim Courneya, vice president of the Frazee-based Northarvest Bean Growers Association, which has seen U.S. sales of dried beans to Cuba level off to around 10 percent of the 80,000- to 100,000-ton market they once hoped it could be.

Ventura's trip came at something of a high-water mark in trade relations between Cuba and the U.S.

As Ventura announced his trip, Congress was considering easing travel restrictions, and Minnesota food companies such as Hormel Foods Corp. and Cargill Inc. were filling cash orders that had been legalized in 2000. The 2002 trade expo was sanctioned by the U.S. government, even though top Bush administration officials remained critical of U.S. business ties to Cuba.

Things started to backslide the next year. The regime imprisoned dozens of dissidents and journalists and executed three men accused of trying to hijack a ferry to leave Cuba. Support for loosening the trade embargo that was imposed after the 1959 revolution seemed to evaporate in Congress.

John Kavulich, a trade analyst involved in the 2002 expo with Ventura, said the White House nixed efforts to revive the show in 2003.

The U.S. House voted 245-182 this year to reject easing restrictions on farm sales to Cuba, including a proposal to allow Cuba to pay for goods after they are shipped from a U.S. port instead of ahead of time as the law now requires.

While Cuba once preferred to buy U.S. food products in hopes of normalizing relations with the United States, it has been diversifying its base of suppliers in hopes of pressuring the Bush administration to ease trade restrictions, Kavulich said.

Nearly 2,000 companies from around the world are expected to attend the Nov. 5-10 trade show that Hugoson plans to attend.

Pedro Alvarez Borrego, chairman of Alimport, Cuba's food-purchasing arm, has called it "a great opportunity to take the pulse of the Cuban market."

For Minnesota exporters like Kaehler, that means more competition for Cuba's limited food dollars.

"All those other countries are sucking the money out," he said.

Information from: Star Tribune,

Huge migrant tent city planned for Gitmo

By Carol Rosenberg, Posted on Thu, Oct. 18, 2007.

GUANTANAMO BAY NAVY BASE, Cuba -- The U.S. military has expanded plans for a pop-up tent city to shelter migrants in case of a Caribbean boat crisis -- now a $55 million project that would prepare a safe haven for up to 45,000 boat people.

Since Fidel Castro took ill and ceded power of Cuba to his brother Raúl, the Bush administration has been preparing for a 10,000-person tent city.

In May, the Navy hired a Jacksonville contractor to build cement block buildings with 525 toilets and 248 showers on an empty slice of the base. The military could rapidly erect tents around the site. The buildings should be completed next summer at a cost of $16.5 million.

Now, under the expansion, the military has invited military contractors to bid on a $40 million project that would build a second tent city on the base for 35,000 migrants in need of humanitarian relief.

The Navy put out the bid in recent months, said Marine Capt. Manuel Carpio, the officer here assigned to plan for the crisis and coordinate with various U.S. and international agencies.

No boat crisis is on the horizon: Experts tracking Cuban migration of late say the majority of those fleeing the Castro-run side of the island have shunned the heavily patrolled Florida Straits for the western passage to Mexico's Yucatan peninsula.

But the planning is for a scenario on the scale of the 1994-95 crisis, when first Haitians and then Cubans fleeing instability in their homelands set out to sea in rickety rafts trying to reach South Florida.

The Clinton administration sent U.S. Navy and Coast Guard ships to intercept the migrants and take them to this remote military foothold in Southeast Cuba. At one point, more than 40,000 boat people overwhelmed the base.

In the case of the Haitians, most were sent home. In the case of the Cubans, many spent up to a year in tent cities around the base before being resettled in the United States amid a U.S.-Cuban migration agreement that since has mostly returned Cubans to their homeland.

Now, the Bush administration has provisional plans for a similar military interdiction mission based on the lessons learned in the 1990s crisis. Those plans call for processing people captured at sea, first through the Department of Homeland Security to check for criminals, then through the International Organization for Migration, which assists in foreign resettlement and repatriation.

This Navy base currently has a huge chain-link fenced compound that could serve as a small tent city for the first 400 boat people intercepted from any Caribbean country. That operation would be run by the Department of Homeland Security, which already shelters up to about 40 asylum seekers on the base at a time.

Then, the U.S. military that now runs the prison camps for suspected al Qaeda terrorists and other war-on-terror captives would swing into action and build a tent camp. The prisoners are held miles away on the 45-square-mile base.

Metal shipping containers with cots and tents for any potential first wave of boat people are already here and ready.

In the 1990s, the boat crisis so overwhelmed the base that intercepted Cubans were sheltered in tents on an abandoned airfield and overflow boat people were housed in tents on a scrubby nine-hole golf course.

Others were put on a bluff overlooking the Caribbean, where the prison camps now sprawl.

The effort to build an infrastructure for a migrant tent city is separate from another $10 million tent city now rising on a different portion of the base. That tent city would be part of a legal compound surrounding two high-security courtrooms and is intended for lawyers, staff members and journalists for any upcoming war-on-terror trials.

The next military commission session is scheduled for Nov. 8. It is the arraignment of 21-year-old Canadian captive Omar Khadr. Khadr is accused of a war crime in the July 2002 grenade killing of a U.S. Army special forces medic, Staff Sgt. Christopher Speer, in Afghanistan.

It was not clear whether the tent city legal compound for war-on-terror trials would be ready in time for that session.

CIA to honor Bay of Pigs vets at its art gallery

The CIA will embrace the historic -- albeit failed -- 1961 invasion of Cuba through art.

By Lesley Clark. Posted on Thu, Oct. 18, 2007

WASHINGTON -- The Bay of Pigs invasion has been a low point for the U.S. government since its failure more than four decades ago. Now, the men who volunteered for the mission are being remembered at an art gallery at -- of all places -- the CIA, which plotted the clandestine operation.

Veterans of the ill-fated attempt to topple Fidel Castro -- Cuban exiles, CIA contract pilots and the families of four Alabama Air National Guardsmen who died in Cuba -- will gather Thursday at the Southern Museum of Flight in Birmingham, Ala. There, an oil painting will be unveiled that depicts one of the successes of the covert operation: an April 1961 aerial attack on Castro's forces that took out an estimated 900 soldiers.

''It's been viewed as an embarrassment, but the modern world is recognizing it's part of our history. That's all there is to it,'' said Jorge Del Valle, 63, who was 15 when he walked into a CIA recruiting office in Miami to sign up for the venture. "We have gained acknowledgment worldwide.''

The painting, commissioned by a North Carolina man with an interest in honoring the lost-to-history covert operators who were trained by the CIA, will be donated to the Central Intelligence Agency. It will go on permanent display at agency headquarters in Langley, Va., in a new art gallery that gives a tip of the hat to the secret agents who worked for the agency and its predecessor, the Office of Strategic Services.

The gallery is not open to the public, but visitors to the CIA building are allowed to visit the art gallery and a museum, which contains artifacts of CIA missions, including a matchbox camera.

''We venerate our leaders with fine art portraits, our historical moments with paintings,'' said Jeff Bass, the Pensacola artist who spent a year interviewing pilots and Bay of Pigs veterans to create the piece. "But while we tend to commemorate those in uniform, the clandestine services haven't gotten that kind of recognition.''

That's beginning to change, thanks to Erik Kirzinger, of Madison, N.C., whose uncle died in a covert operation in China in 1952. Kirzinger helped get his uncle's remains repatriated to the United States and during that time visited the Pentagon and other government agencies, where he saw art commemorating various operations. ''I got to thinking, there's nothing like that at the CIA,'' he said. Calling it his ''passion,'' Kirzinger got in touch with the curator of the CIA's museum to gauge interest. He found a receptive audience.

Kirzinger, who works with private individuals and corporations to raise money for the arts, said the agency has suggested it is open to illustrating any chapter in its history -- if it's declassified.


The Bay of Pigs painting, paid for by Compass Bank in Alabama, will be the fifth to hang at the CIA gallery and Bass's third; he did a portrait of Virginia Hall, a World War II spy, and a painting that depicts agents who died flying supplies to French forces in Indochina in the 1950s. (Bass also painted former Gov. Jeb Bush's official portrait, showing him with a Bible and a BlackBerry.)

A CIA spokesman said it welcomes art ''related to the work of the agency'' -- even work that illustrates not-so-successful chapters in its history.

''The fact that the overall [Bay of Pigs] operation didn't achieve its objectives in no way diminishes the lasting example of courage of those who risked -- and in some cases gave -- their lives to support it,'' agency spokesman George Little said of the Bay of Pigs painting.

Titled Lobo Flight, the 40- by 30-inch painting shows a vintage B-26 twin engine bomber flown by Connie Seigrist -- the lead pilot of a convoy of B-26s painted to look like Cuban aircraft -- dropping bombs onto a column of Cuban troops heading to the beach, where a group of CIA-trained Cuban exiles had landed to attempt to overthrow Castro.

The air flights succeeded, but President John F. Kennedy's support for the operation, tepid from the beginning, weakened further and Cuban forces quickly crushed the invasion. It would go down in history as one of the United States' biggest strategic blunders.

But for the Cuban exiles who volunteered for the mission, the two CIA contract pilots, Seigrist and Doug Price, and the families of four Alabama Air National Guard members who trained the exiles on the B-26s and who were killed during the invasion, the portrait is sweet, if long-delayed recognition.


'You always hear of the Bay of Pigs, 'Oh that was a fiasco,' '' said Janet Ray Weininger of South Florida, whose father, Thomas ''Pete'' Ray, was one of the pilots shot down, his body desecrated and put on display in a Havana morgue for 18 years before it was shipped back to his family. "That's not what it was. It was a tragedy, especially for those who fought and their families.

''But for the agency to embrace something that has negative connotations for them, it means a great deal,'' said Weininger, who helped to organize the ceremony and was bringing nearly 20 exiles to Birmingham. "It means a lot to have the agency embrace its history.''

Appeal deals blow to Cuban father

The second chapter to an international custody dispute comes to a halt -- before it even begins -- as both sides placed their bets with the court of appeals.

By Carol Marbin Miller And Tere Figueras Negrete, Posted on Wed, Oct. 17, 2007.

A trial to determine the fate of a 5-year-old girl caught in an international custody dispute came to an abrupt halt Tuesday when attorneys for both sides announced they were turning to the appellate court.

The Third District Court of Appeal dispensed with one of the legal maneuvers within hours, dealing a blow to Cuban father Rafael Izquierdo, who seeks to return to his country with the girl.

Izquierdo's legal team had requested the upper court halt the second phase of the trial, set to begin Tuesday, because the father had already been found by a judge to be a fit parent.

The appellate court declined to hear the case without elaboration.

But because another appeal, filed by the Department of Children & Families, is still pending before the appellate court, the trial remains on hold. Under Florida law, trial court actions are automatically stayed when the state files an appeal.

The department, which seeks to keep the girl in the United States, wants the higher court to reverse Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Jeri B. Cohen's order declaring Izquierdo fit to raise his child. The judge issued her order last month, following several weeks of contentious courtroom drama.

Cohen had planned to move forward with the second phase of the trial this week, to decide whether the girl would be emotionally ''endangered'' if removed from the home of her foster family and placed permanently with her father in Cuba.

Izquierdo's attorney, Ira Kurzban, said he had hoped the appellate court would have called off that second phase entirely.

''First of all, we're disappointed in the decision today,'' Kurzban said of the appeal court's swift denial. "We believe it will prolong what is really a tragedy for this little girl and the entire family.''

The girl has been living with Coral Gables couple Joe and Maria Cubas since April 2006. Both the state and the Cubas family say the girl should remain where she is, citing her attachment to her 13-year-old half-brother, who has been adopted by the Cubas family.

Izquierdo and his legal team have been equally adamant that his rights as a birth father are being violated.

Both sides had geared up for yet another protracted courtroom battle -- one now on hold pending a ruling from the appeal court.

The appeals surprised the judge, who worried aloud about the impact a delay would have on the parties -- especially the little girl whose fate still remains in limbo.

''I am begging the Third District Court of Appeal on my hands and knees -- begging, begging, begging -- to please, please, hear these issues on an expedited basis,'' Cohen said. "For the sake of the child, the families, her brother and everybody involved, I am really asking them to move this along.''

For the duration of the trial, the girl has ping-ponged between two households -- the Cubas family's home in Coral Gables and the temporary dwelling of Izquierdo and his family in a borrowed condo on Brickell Avenue.

Izquierdo's common-law wife and their 7-year-old daughter are with him in Miami.

The dispute has dragged on so long that on Tuesday Izquierdo complained that his other daughter -- the 5-year-old's half-sister -- has missed months of schooling in Cuba and may have to repeat second grade.

In an unusual gesture between the frequently hostile parties, DCF offered to help Izquierdo enroll the little girl in a public school's ESOL program, which provides classes for non-English speakers. Izquierdo and his attorneys quickly accepted.

The visitation schedule for the little girl at the center of the dispute, revamped earlier this month to give her considerably more time with her birth father, will remain intact -- although lawyers for the state and the Cubas family attempted to change the arrangement to allow her more time with her brother and foster family during the week.

Both sides of the dispute agreed Tuesday to bring in an outside mediator to possibly find a resolution to the custody dilemma.

Media group criticizes acts by Cuba, Venezuela

American news media leaders criticized policies against the press by the governments of Cuba and Venezuela.

By Jacqueline Charles. Posted on Wed, Oct. 17, 2007.

A Miami gathering of American news media leaders Tuesday demanded the release of jailed journalists in Cuba and criticized the Venezuelan government for assaults and ''acts of intimidation'' against journalists there.

The complaints were part of more than 20 resolutions issued by the Inter American Press Association at the end of its annual General Assembly. The group's members are news media owners and journalists from the United States, Latin America, the Caribbean and Canada.

In the case of Cuba, the IAPA called the situation ''alarming'' and demanded the unconditional release of 27 jailed journalists, free access to the Internet and an end to the government's control over the media. It also noted that in the past six months there's been a crackdown on illegal satellite TV dishes.


The resolution urged IAPA member media outlets and others ''to publish or air content to express solidarity with independent journalists who are behind bars or who suffer persecution or censorship as a result of their work as journalists'' in Cuba.

On Venezuela, it approved a resolution ''to file complaints with international organizations for the human rights violations committed by the regime of President [Hugo] Chávez'' and to condemn his "totalitarian, dictatorial character.''

The increased scrutiny on Cuba and Venezuela was welcomed by members, many of whom said that despite some recent gains, freedom of the press continues to be endangered in Latin America.

''It's a very risky profession,'' said Iris Adames, 44, a freelance journalist from Boca Raton who formerly worked in Panama as a journalist.

Argentina's Jorge Fascetto, a past IAPA president, said he believes the situation has gotten worse for journalists in Latin America.

''The problem is not just the murders,'' he said, noting that nine journalists had been killed around the region in the last six months. Most of the killers have not been arrested. "The problem is also the impunity. Impunity is terrible.''

The IAPA's new president, Earl Maucker, editor of the Sun-Sentinel in Fort Lauderdale, pledged he would continue trying to visit Cuba and Venezuela to study freedom of the press on the ground.

''We are not going to give up yet,'' Maucker said. "It is our responsibility to nurture the common thread of democracy, even when it doesn't seem possible.''

But while having a news bureau in Havana has afforded Maucker the opportunity to visit Cuba and meet with Cuban government officials on numerous occasions, he had to concede that the goal is a challenging one.


''They have made it clear they have no interest in a visit from the Inter American Press Association,'' he said. "But we cannot turn away. We must be proactive. We have an obligation to reach out and seek common understanding.''

Maucker said his more immediate goal is to go to Venezuela, where the IAPA had planned to meet again in March to discuss press freedom around the region. He said several Venezuelan hotels had canceled reservations for IAPA members.

Venezuela's populist President Chávez regularly lambastes the privately owned news media around the region as owned by ''oligarchs'' and recently denied a license renewal to a Caracas TV station that had been highly critical of his policies.

Cuban dad's lawyers: Law unconstitutional

A state law that could deny a Cuban father custody of his daughter is unconstitutional, the father's lawyers said. A Miami judge disagreed.

By Carol Marbin Miller And Tere Figueras Negrete, Posted on Tue, Oct. 16, 2007.

Attorneys for a Cuban father seeking custody of his 5-year-old daughter have asked a Miami judge to declare unconstitutional a state law that would allow child-welfare administrators to strip him of custody permanently even though he has been found a fit parent.

The legal team for father Rafael Izquierdo, a farmer and fisherman from central Cuba, filed a 70-page motion Thursday asking Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Jeri B. Cohen to declare a portion of Florida's child-welfare statute in violation of the state and federal constitutions.

The legal challenge faces a difficult hurdle: Cohen, who has been presiding over the girl's unusual case for more than a year, indicated Monday she does not believe the state law is improper.

''I don't see any constitutional issues here, quite frankly, that can be attacked,'' Cohen said at a 90-minute hearing. "I want you to know where I'm going: I don't think this is an unconstitutional statute in any way, shape or form.''

The dispute over custody of the auburn-haired little girl will enter its second phase Tuesday, when Cohen begins taking testimony about whether the girl would be ''endangered'' by a reunification with her father, who has been living in a Brickell Avenue condo since entering the United States on a humanitarian visa in May.

Jason Dimitris, the state's lead attorney, said his first of a possible 25 witnesses will be Miguel Firpi, the girl's longtime therapist. Izquierdo's attorneys announced they may call as many as 47 witnesses, though Cohen pointed out there is extensive ''overlap'' between the witness lists of the two sides.

The little girl has been living in the Coral Gables home of Joe and Maria Cubas since April 2006, four months after the girl and her older half-brother were sheltered by the Department of Children & Families after their mother, Elena Perez, slashed her wrists with a kitchen knife. The Cubases have since adopted the 13-year-old boy.

The DCF, the girl's guardian ad litem and the Cubases are asking Cohen to strip Izquierdo of custody over the girl forever, arguing that she has bonded with the Cubases and would be harmed by any separation from both her foster parents and half-brother.

Izquierdo's attorneys are arguing that the part of Florida's child-welfare law that permits judges to withhold custody from fit parents -- if ''the court finds that such placement would endanger the safety, well-being, or physical, mental or emotional health of the child'' -- violates the ''fundamental'' rights of parents to raise their children.

Jeffrey P. Bassett, a child-welfare lawyer with the Florida attorney general's office, asked Cohen to delay a hearing on Izquierdo's request, saying the attorney general is charged with defending state law and had not yet received a copy of the complicated motion.

The father's attorneys were hoping their motion would be heard by Cohen before the hearing is to begin Tuesday morning, but Cohen refused to hear arguments, saying state officials had insufficient time to prepare.

''To go forward with an unconstitutional proceeding for two weeks would be improper,'' said Steven Weinger, one of Izquierdo's attorneys.

Cohen ruled she would begin taking testimony on the child's possible endangerment, and rule on the motion later.

''They have a right to be heard if you are asking the court to declare a statute unconstitutional,'' Cohen said, referring to the attorney general. "It won't do any good to argue this. My ears are closed. I don't want to delay this. . . . We're putting on witnesses [Tuesday].''


CubaNet does not require sole rights from its contributors. We authorize the reproduction and distribution of this article as long as the source is credited.

News from Cuba
by e-mail


Cooperativas Agrícolas
Movimiento Sindical
Artes Plásticas
El Niño del Pífano
Octavillas sobre La Habana
Fotos de Cuba
Quiénes Somos
Informe Anual
Correo Eléctronico


In Association with

145 Madeira Ave, Suite 207
Coral Gables, FL 33134
(305) 774-1887