4 adventurers kayak from Havana to Key West

A team of four adventurers departed Wednesday morning from the Marina Hemingway in Havana and are navigating the Florida Straits on their way to Key West .

Chris Brinlee, Jr., an adventure photographer, is from Lyon, Colorado. Andy Cochrane, Oru Kayak’s director of marketing, is from San Francisco, California. Wyatt Roscoe, an industrial designer for Quest Renewables, lives in Atlanta.  

The only member of the team who is not from the United States is Wes Siler, a contributing editor at Outside magazine, who is from London. The four of them are using foldable Oru kayaks made out of corrugated plastic.
“There will be no sleeping, no real rest,” Brinlee said. 

Brinlee said they will be thinking about the many Cubans who have risked their lives crossing the Florida Straits in search of a better life. According to the U.S. Coast Guard the number of Cubans caught at sea decreased after former President Barack Obama put an end to the “wet-foot dry-foot” policy allowing Cubans who touched U.S. land to stay.

It will take them 30 to 40 hours to paddle about 110 miles to get to the Key West Marina. They will be battling exhaustion, waves, wind, hot sun and sharks. Brinlee shared a video of the excessive vomiting that he experienced during a shorter kayaking trip. 

They won’t be alone. A Sunluver Charters catamaran will be following the team as a precaution. A group of members of the Federación Cubana de Canoas Kayak Sport will also be following them on their journey to Key West. 

“I have never done a crossing like this, but there are comparable things that I have done,” Cochrane said. 

Brinlee wearing a Garmin GPS technology, which allows others to track his journey. Click here to view a map with his location

Local 10 News Andrea Torres contributed to this story. 

 

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Aspiring candidates for political office complain about harassment in Cuba

The leader of the opposition youth group Somos Mas, Eliecer Avila, wants to run for office in his neighborhood in Havana, but he can’t. 

Avila, 31, is among the activists who fear that the socialist Cuban government will try to block democratic candidates from winning during the municipal elections in October. 

Campaigning is already illegal in Cuba, where the Communist Party dominates all realms of government and industry.

The president of the National Electoral Commission of Cuba, Alina Balseiro, said officials will accept candidates who meet the qualifications even if they are opponents of the Communist Party. Avila said the government is finding other ways to limit the voters’ choices. 

Avila said that those who have been brave enough to plan to run against a Communist candidate are being harassed. He said authorities searched his home about three months ago. They told him they were investigating him for weapons and drugs possession. 

The pending investigation disqualifies him from running. Avila believes the attacks mean the government fears opposition candidates.  

Avila is not the only candidate who believes he is being attacked. Activists claim there are candidates all around the country who are experiencing intimidation. Rolando Columbie Patterson, of Antilla, in Holguin, was sentenced to six months of house arrest, Cubanet.org reported according to Manuel Cuesta,  of the Progressive Arc Party. 

Election day is Oct. 22. and the runoff for candidates who registered 50 percent of the vote will be held Oct. 29. 

Local 10 News Andrea Torres contributed to this story. 

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Aspiring candidates for political office complain about harassment in Cuba

The leader of the opposition youth group Somos Mas, Eliecer Avila, wants to run for office in his neighborhood in Havana, but he can’t. 

Avila, 31, is among the activists who fear that the socialist Cuban government will try to block democratic candidates from winning during the municipal elections in October. 

Campaigning is already illegal in Cuba, where the Communist Party dominates all realms of government and industry.

The president of the National Electoral Commission of Cuba, Alina Balseiro, said officials will accept candidates who meet the qualifications even if they are opponents of the Communist Party. Avila said the government is finding other ways to limit the voters’ choices. 

Avila said that those who have been brave enough to plan to run against a Communist candidate are being harassed. He said authorities searched his home about three months ago. They told him they were investigating him for weapons and drugs possession. 

The pending investigation disqualifies him from running. Avila believes the attacks mean the government fears opposition candidates.  

Avila is not the only candidate who believes he is being attacked. Activists claim there are candidates all around the country who are experiencing intimidation. Rolando Columbie Patterson, of Antilla, in Holguin, was sentenced to six months of house arrest, Cubanet.org reported according to Manuel Cuesta,  of the Progressive Arc Party. 

Election day is Oct. 22. and the runoff for candidates who registered 50 percent of the vote will be held Oct. 29. 

Local 10 News Andrea Torres contributed to this story. 

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In Cuba, elections are genuine demonstration of democracy, Castro government says

Cubans will soon be heading to the polls to begin the process of determining a new leader.

The process which is already underway, could be historically significant as current Cuban President Raul Castro has vowed to step down from his post as president. 

According to the National Electoral Commission, on Oct. 22 Cubans will vote at the municipal level in their neighborhoods. Those elected will then vote for candidates who will represent them at the national assembly, which will then elect Cuba’s top political leaders.

In a press conference Monday, Cuban officials assured the press any Cuban citizen can become president or vice president. 

But history tells a different story. Cuba has only had two presidents since the 1959 revolution: brothers Fidel and Raul Castro. 

There are no political parties in Cuba other than the Communist Party and candidates, by law, are not allowed to campaign.

During a news conference, a reporter asked the president of the National Electoral Commission if members of the opposition would be allowed to be candidates in the upcoming municipal elections.

“To me, it doesn’t make a difference if you’re minority,” said Alina Balseiro, Cuban National Electoral Commission president. “I only want to know if you’re Cuban and you meet the requirements.”

Retired University of Miami professor Andy Gomez, an expert on Cuba, called the idea laughable. 

“Giving the impression that these people really have a chance — we’ve seen that before. The likelihood is that’s not going to happen,” Gomez said. 

To be elected to any political post, candidates have to be Cuban, at least 16 years of age, have been living on the island for at least five years and cannot have a criminal past.

The press conference on Monday was framed around the slogan that in Cuba there is a genuine demonstration of democracy.

When Local 10 Cuba correspondent Hatzel Vela asked how the Cuban government can convince Americans that Cuba has free and fair elections, Balserio said there is a lack of knowledge and Americans do not have enough information about how Cuban elections take place.

She went on to say that the Cuban electoral system has greater strength and function and principles like no other, that allow for a total democracy.

Javier Lopez, a private taxi driver, said he doesn’t care who is president. 

In Spanish, he said he just wants a normal life, in which he can work and make a decent living. 

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U.S.-Cuba scientific collaborations continue despite change in policy

Scientists from both Cuba and the U.S. have continued to work together despite President Donald Trump’s regression on U.S. relations with the Communist island. 

Cuban coral reefs are the nursery grounds for some of the grouper, snapper and other marine species that the U.S. commercial fishing industry relies on. 

Daniel Whittle runs the Cuba program for the Environmental Defense Fund, an American nonprofit conservation organization that has been working in Cuba for 17 years.

“We share migratory resources. We share sharks, sea turtles and fish,” Whittle said. 

When it comes to biodiversity, Cuba is the ecological crown jewel of the Caribbean. Economic underdevelopment and the communist-run country’s restrictive laws have benefited the environment. 

There are more than 4,000 tiny islands surrounding the main island that offer refuge. And there are plenty of endemic exotic species in the 211 protected areas that cover about 20 percent of the island

There are more than 6,000 species of plants and around 1,400 species of mollusks. More than 80 percent of its reptiles are unique to the island. The Cuban trogon, the Cuban pygmy owl and the Cuban tody are birds that are not found anywhere else in the world. 

The U.S.-Cuba scientific research teams that followed restoration of diplomatic relations continue to study the healthy ecosystems. 

Among the new partnerships is a deal between the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Cuban Ministry of Science, Technology and Environment.  

The partnerships are paying off with data. For instance, a joint expedition with technology provided by Florida Atlantic University recently found there was an alarming number of invasive lionfish. 

“We found an incredible amount of diversity, especially in algae and sponges, and the reefs were in incredible health as well,” said Patricia Gonzalez, of the Marine Investigations Center at the University of Havana.

Another expedition that the museums of natural history in Havana and New York conducted at the Humboldt National Park about two years ago. It included a team of microbiologists, herpetologists, mammologists, arachnologists and ornithologists from both countries.  

Wittle said the island has healthy coral reefs that biologists haven’t seen in the rest of the region in five decades. Scientists want to make sure that protecting Cuba’s coastal habitats remains a priority for both the tourism and commercial fishing industries. 

Juan Jose Mena has been working in the fishing industry for more than a decade now. He believes climate change is to blame for the changes on marine ecosystems. Tarpon and bonefish have been impacted. Mena said Cuban fishermen are also collaborating with the scientists.

“The environment is truly the backbone for economic development,” Whittle said. “If you protect the environment, you can attract the tourists.”

The Associated Press’ Andrea Rodriguez contributed to this report. 
 
ON THE WEB: Recent videos about biodiversity in Cuba
 

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Southwest Airlines latest commercial airline to cut back on routes to Cuba

Southwest Airlines is the latest commercial airline to cut back some of its routes to Cuba. 

Starting Sept. 4, Southwest will no longer fly to two Cuban cities: Santa Clara and Varadero.

Varadero is one of Cuba’s hottest destination and Santa Clara was the destination last year for the first commercial flight in decades to Cuba.

Airline officials said there is not enough sustainability in those markets, especially in light of the recent changes President Donald Trump made when it comes to travel policy toward Cuba.

But the discount airline is applying to add another daily round trip between Fort Lauderdale and Havana.
It currently has two daily flights to Havana.

Cuba reportedly earned $3 billion from tourism in 2016 and the Cuban government expects a higher income in 2017.

The number of foreign visitors is up 22 percent compared to the same period last year.

Cuba expects to reach a record 4.2 million visitors this year.

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