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
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
"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
Ventura's trip came at something of a high-water
mark in trade relations between Cuba and
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,
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
"All those other countries are sucking
the money out," he said.
Information from: Star Tribune, http://www.startribune.com
Huge migrant tent city planned for Gitmo
By Carol Rosenberg, crosenberg@MiamiHerald.com.
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
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
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
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
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,
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
The CIA will embrace
the historic -- albeit failed -- 1961 invasion
of Cuba through art.
By Lesley Clark. lclark@MiamiHerald.com.
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
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
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
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.
'IT WAS A TRAGEDY'
'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
By Carol Marbin Miller And
Tere Figueras Negrete, cmarbin@MiamiHerald.com.
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
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
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
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,
American news media leaders
criticized policies against the press by
the governments of Cuba and Venezuela.
By Jacqueline Charles. jcharles@MiamiHerald.com.
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
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
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
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,
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
''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
CUBA NOT INTERESTED
''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
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
By Carol Marbin Miller And Tere Figueras
Negrete, cmarbin@MiamiHerald.com. 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
''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
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
''To go forward with an unconstitutional
proceeding for two weeks would be improper,''
said Steven Weinger, one of Izquierdo's
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].''