Raul Castro Demands Return of Guantanamo, End of Radio and TV Marti, and Payments

Categories: La Habana

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Courtesy of U.S. Navy
In 2009, President Barack Obama promised to close the detention center at Guantánamo Bay, but he still hasn't quite gotten around to it.

Now he has an even tougher and possibly more controversial decision to make. Cuban President Raúl Castro has demanded that in order to officially normalize relations between the two countries, the United States must first return Guantánamo Bay to Cuba. He also demanded the end of anti-Castro broadcasts into the country from Miami-based Radio Martí and TV Martí and made vague calls for economic compensation.

Yes, just when it seemed everything was sailing smoothly toward normalization, ol' Castro came in to shake things up.

See also: Fidel Castro Is Still Alive, Releases Statement Praising Diplomacy but Slamming Bill Gates

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New Cuba Travel and Commerce Rules Start Tomorrow

Categories: La Habana

Photo by Jon Creel | Flickr CC
In December, Barack Obama announced he would normalize relations with Cuba and ease some travel restrictions, but he didn't give a clear timeline for when that would happen.

Well, surprise, the Treasury Department announced today that the new travel rules will go into effect tomorrow.

See also: America's Cuba Ties Transformed

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SNL's "Cuban Christmas" Sketch Was a Weird Mess

Categories: La Habana

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Saturday Night Live's "A Very Cuban Christmas" sketch from this weekend's show wasn't just sort of offensive to Cubans and Cuban-Americans; it was offensive to the very idea of comedy.

In a sketch that seemed to be written at the last minute, the SNL crew decided to pack together a Christmas special parody with every Cuban stereotype and generic impression they could think of.


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In Hialeah, Miami's True Cuban Heart, a Muted Reaction to Obama's Thaw With Castro

Categories: La Habana

Photo by Trevor Bach
Yesterday's media scrum in Little Havana was nowhere to be found in Hialeah.
Yesterday's joint announcement from President Barack Obama and Cuban leader Raúl Castro that they intend to normalize relations between the two long-divided countries was undoubtedly the most momentous day in U.S.-Cuba relations in more than a half-century.

It was business as usual at Yoyito Café.

As cameras mobbed a tiny group of protesters across town outside the famed Versailles Restaurant in Little Havana, all was quiet and politics barely stirred to the surface in Hialeah, the true heart of Cuban Miami these days.

See also: White House: "It Is Clear That Decades of U.S. Isolation of Cuba Have Failed" (Updated)

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Twitter Wonders if Beyonce Helped Thaw U.S.-Cuba Relations

Categories: La Habana

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Instagram

In 2013, Beyoncé and Jay Z randomly (and controversially) popped up in Cuba to celebrate their fifth wedding anniversary. Just 18 months later, President Obama has announced a normalization of U.S.-Cuban relations.

Coincidence? A certain segment of Twitter thinks not.


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Miami Politicians Respond to Cuba Thaw: Mayor Regalado Opposes Cuban Consulate in Miami

Categories: La Habana

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Photo by Michele Eve Sandberg
President Obama's announcement that he would seek to normalize relations with Cuba landed like a thud among many of Miami's Cuban-American Republican politicians today. Though almost all applauded the fact that former prisoner Alan Gross was freed, most blasted Obama over the wider implications.

Sen. Marco Rubio led the charge. "At a minimum, I would say this: Barack Obama is the worst negotiator that we've had as president since at least Jimmy Carter and maybe in the history of this country," he told Fox News earlier today. In a statement, he warned that the move would embolden other hostile regimes to "take advantage of President Obama's naiveté during his final two years in office."

Meanwhile, on the more practical side of things, Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado appeared more concerned about the idea of a Cuban consulate popping up in Miami.

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TV Crews Outnumber Protesters at Versailles as Obama and Castro Normalize Relations

Categories: La Habana

photo by Trevor Bach
As President Obama preps for a noon announcement about a new era of U.S. and Cuba relations, TV crews from around the nation did the predictable: They descended on Versailles Restaurant, long the hotbed of anti-Castro protests in Miami.

So far, at least, they haven't had much to broadcast home. As of 11:30, just a handful of sign-waving protesters were surrounded by dozens of TV crews and reporters.

See also: Obama Reportedly To Announce Thaw In Embargo as Alan Gross Freed From Cuban Prison

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Bumbling U.S. Spies Tried To Infiltrate Cuba's Hip-Hop Scene

Categories: La Habana

via YouTube
Los Aldeanos is now based in Miami. An AP investigation finds that a U.S. contractor tried to use them to stir up discontent in Cuba.
For more than a decade, hip-hop has risen as a cultural force in Cuba, giving voice to a discontented generation's frustrations with the fossilized Castro regime. The underground scene has become a rare outlet for genuine criticism of the government.

So of course bungling U.S. spies tried to infiltrate the scene and pretty much ruined it for everyone. That's the gist of a jaw-dropping new investigation from the Associated Press this morning, which found that the famed group Los Aldeanos -- which has since fled the island and works out of Miami -- was among the Americans' top targets.

See also: Iskander Talks Los Aldeanos y Cuban Conscious Hip-Hop

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Obama Could Lift Sanctions Against Cuba After Next Week's Election, Says Congressman

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Photo by Jvlio via Wikimedia Commons
Are US-Cuba relations about to see a new dawn?
The Cuban expression "mañana, mañana." is often interpreted by Anglos as an excuse for laziness. In fact, the saying speaks volumes about its island of origin. In a country that has been led by one Castro or another for more than half a century, what hope can there be that tomorrow will be any different from today?

Earlier this month, that question brought several dozen experts, academics, and journalists to Columbia Journalism School in Manhattan. Optimism was evident in the conference's title -- Covering Cuba in an Era of Change -- as well as in the presentations, which included strong hints that the embargo's days are numbered.

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Kissinger Drew Up Plans To "Clobber" Cuba in 1975, New Records Show

Categories: La Habana

Photo by the German Federal Archive via Wikimedia Commons
For decades, conventional wisdom has held that the United States and Cuba were never closer to all-out war than during the 13 days in October 1962 that we now call the Cuban Missile Crisis. But new records show that more than a decade after that crisis, Secretary of State Henry Kissinger drew up detailed plans for bombing the island and urged President Ford to "smash Castro."

The impetus, of all things, was Castro's decision to send troops to Angola to support the newly independent African nation -- a move that enraged Kissinger, the New York Times reports.

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