North Korea sends foreign minister to Cuba

North Korea’s King Jong-un sent Ri Yong Ho, his foreign minister and a delegation to Havana to meet with Cuban President Raul Castro’s administration, the Korean Central News Agency reported Friday

The visit comes at a time when U.S. President Donald Trump nearly halted the previous administration’s attempt at normalizing relations. The Trump administration’s sanction efforts aim to isolate North Korea.

More news from Havana:

FAMILY REUNIFICATION PROGRAM

Cubans wanting to come to the United States through family reunification will have to wait longer. 

The  U.S. State Department announced Thursday on Facebook that they are working with the Department of Homeland Security to respond to requests for visas under the Cuban family reunification program.

All of the interview appointments for the program were cancelled, after the U.S. pulled most of their staff out of the U.S. embassy in Havana in September. Safety concerns over the reported sonic attacks that injured 24 U.S. citizens prompted the U.S. State Department’s precautions. 

AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL REPORT

Amnesty International released a report claiming the reason why there is little dissent on the Communist island is because the government is the largest employer. The government also controls Cuba’s emerging, and highly regulated private sector.

“Many cubans feel suffocated by a web of state-control over their daily lives part of that control is: If you want to hold a job, you have to agree with everything the government says,” said Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas Director at Amnesty International

Researchers said the interviewed more than 60 Cuban migrants in various cities in Mexico. Cuba is the only country in the Americas where the international organization is not allowed to officially visit. 

GENERAL’S SON’S BUSINESS 

Cuban police officers shut down the popular Restaurante Starbien Wednesday in Havana’s Vedado neighborhood.

José Raúl Colomé, the son of the powerful Gen. Abelardo “El Furry” Colomé, co-owned the paladar. He and his associate Osmani Cisneros were detained. He reportedly lived there with his mother, Hilda Torres Beltrán. 

Gen. Colomé, 76, was the vice president of the council of state of Cuba, belonged to the 14-member Politburo, the highest authority within the Communist Party, and was also a Cuban minister of the interior. He resigned due to failing health in 2015.

Follow this story

North Korea sends foreign minister to Cuba

North Korea’s King Jong-un sent Ri Yong Ho, his foreign minister and a delegation to Havana to meet with Cuban President Raul Castro’s administration, the Korean Central News Agency reported Friday

The visit comes at a time when U.S. President Donald Trump nearly halted the previous administration’s attempt at normalizing relations. The Trump administration’s sanction efforts aim to isolate North Korea.

More news from Havana:

FAMILY REUNIFICATION PROGRAM

Cubans wanting to come to the United States through family reunification will have to wait longer. 

The  U.S. State Department announced Thursday on Facebook that they are working with the Department of Homeland Security to respond to requests for visas under the Cuban family reunification program.

All of the interview appointments for the program were cancelled, after the U.S. pulled most of their staff out of the U.S. embassy in Havana in September. Safety concerns over the reported sonic attacks that injured 24 U.S. citizens prompted the U.S. State Department’s precautions. 

AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL REPORT

Amnesty International released a report claiming the reason why there is little dissent on the Communist island is because the government is the largest employer. The government also controls Cuba’s emerging, and highly regulated private sector.

“Many cubans feel suffocated by a web of state-control over their daily lives part of that control is: If you want to hold a job, you have to agree with everything the government says,” said Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas Director at Amnesty International

Researchers said the interviewed more than 60 Cuban migrants in various cities in Mexico. Cuba is the only country in the Americas where the international organization is not allowed to officially visit. 

GENERAL’S SON’S BUSINESS 

Cuban police officers shut down the popular Restaurante Starbien Wednesday in Havana’s Vedado neighborhood.

José Raúl Colomé, the son of the powerful Gen. Abelardo “El Furry” Colomé, co-owned the paladar. He and his associate Osmani Cisneros were detained. He reportedly lived there with his mother, Hilda Torres Beltrán. 

Gen. Colomé, 76, was the vice president of the council of state of Cuba, belonged to the 14-member Politburo, the highest authority within the Communist Party, and was also a Cuban minister of the interior. He resigned due to failing health in 2015.

Follow this story

US experts prepare to release ‘sonic attack’ findings amid Cuba’s denial

While the U.S. State Department reported there were 24 victims of a “sonic attack” in Cuba and an investigation continues, Cuban officials this week continued to deny the incidents. 

After Cuban diplomats complained about not receiving any evidence of such attacks from the U.S. government, they recruited experts to speculate about the possibility of an attack.

The experts didn’t have access to the alleged technology used or the medical history of the 24 victims reported. The Cuban government shared videos on Twitter. 

“In my opinion, it’s not possible a cerebral concussion in the affected diplomats because there was no history of trauma in the affected person,” Dr. Nelson Gomez Viera, a Cuban neurologist, said in English. 

Several sources told Local 10 News that medical experts from the University of Miami and the University of Pennsylvania were getting ready to release their findings by way of The Journal of the American Medical Association.

Cuban diplomats have said they believe the “sonic attacks” were a fabrication to push for President Donald Trump’s new policy. Three weeks ago, they released a prime-time special on Cuban TV questioning the validity of the U.S. reports. 

During a recent visit to Washington, D.C.,  Bruno Rodriguez, Cuba’s foreign minister, accused U.S. officials of “deliberately lying” to create a “pretext for damaging bilateral relations and eliminating the progress made.” 

When Chris Allen learned that an invisible attack had hurt a U.S. government worker who was staying at Havana’s Hotel Capri, he finally had a culprit for his unexplained illness. It developed after he stayed at that same hotel in April 2014 and bewildered a half-dozen neurologists. 

“It really, really frightened me,” said Allen, who works in finance. 

U.S. officials said the sonic attacks started in 2016, two years after Allen’s visit to Havana. He also doesn’t remember the agonizing sound that others reportedly heard. 

U.S. State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in October that investigators were revising assessments based on medical evaluations of the personnel who were affected. 

“To anyone who knows anything about the Cuban government and the past of the Cuban government, it’s hard to imagine that certain things would not be known that they were taking place on that island right there,” Nauert said.

Follow this story

Cuban NostalgiCar partners with Airbnb for behind-the-scenes experience for car lovers

Before Fidel Castro’s Communist revolution, Julio Alvarez Torres’ father was a General Motors mechanic. Alvarez studied mechanical engineering, and his father’s passion for 1950s-era American cars never left him. 

In 2010, Raul Castro embraced the cuentapropismo, a series of market-based reforms allowing the entrepreneurial sector to grow. Alvarez started to drive tourists from the Hotel Nacional around Havana in his 1955 Chevy Bel Air.

About a year later, he and his business partners formed the NostalgiCar Group with a gleaming fleet of about 22 classic cars. Russian engines and homemade parts hid under the hoods of the classic beauties. 

When then-President Barack Obama opened the doors to Cuba after 56 years of limitations, most American tourists were attracted to the vintage cars. The flurry of tourists included Madonna, the Kardashians, Karl Lagerfeld and Beyonce. Even for them, the allure of taking a ride around Havana’s seafront Malecón esplanade in a classic convertible was irresistible.

“We did very well,” Alvarez said. 

They were able to refurbish more cars at their Garaje NostalgiCar. The family business grew. Even the Fast & Furious franchise took notice of Havana’s iconic classic cars. But it all came to an abrupt halt after President Donald Trump was elected. His world of sonic attacks, travel warnings and new regulations put a stop to the flow of U.S. dollars.

“There is a great scarcity of tourists,” Alvarez said. 

Alvarez believes their Cuban ingenuity and perseverance will keep them afloat. Despite the U.S. embargo’s blockade on original parts, they have been able to maintain a 1956 pink-and-white Bel Air they refer to lovingly as Lola. Someone in Canada helped them with their website and someone in Miami helped them to find car parts. 

Alvarez’s wife, Nidialys Acosta Cabrera, deals with the marketing. They are offering city tours, country tours and full-time rentals. They are finding some success with the Airbnb experiences, a package deal for tourists who might want to also visit their Garaje NostalgiCar, a workshop full of secrets.

The tourists who get to visit the garage where the magic happens learn about the process of restoring a rusty monster to its former glory. Chuck Cihak, who was visiting from San Francisco, was marveling at the vintage cars’ shine. He appreciates Alvarez’s passion for brightly colored, mint-condition beauties. 

 “It just brings back old memories of being a little kid, being able to experience the shop, talk to the owner, just to see his enthusiasm,” Cihak said. “This is the change that is coming to Cuba. You can’t stop it.” 

Follow this story

Cuba rejects ‘arbitrary’ U.S. regulations on travel, trade

President Donald Trump’s new U.S.-Cuba regulations went into effect Thursday. But despite this and the U.S. State Department’s decision to discourage Americans from traveling to the island, Sande Speck was exploring Old Havana with a group. 

Speck, a tourist from Minnesota, was visiting the Communist island for the first time. She doesn’t support the U.S. embargo or Trump’s rollback of former President Barack Obama’s policy of re-engagement. 

“I don’t think you leave people out of being part of the world,” Speck said. “And to include, means you need to allow the rest of us to learn about Cuba.”

Trump announced new sanctions in June, and the Treasury Department warned Wednesday that they would be a partial reversal of former President Barack Obama’s policy. Trump wants to insulate economic activity away from the Cuban military without completely getting rid of U.S. engagement.  

Dani Perez, an American tour guide working in Havana, said he was relieved. He is based out of California and travels frequently to the island. He co-founded the American Tour Operators, an organization representing more than 50 American companies in Cuba. 

“Fortunately the door is not completely shut,” Perez said. “We’re hopeful that Americans will continue to come and we’re happy that we can still operate.”

The Cuban government is calling the latest regulations arbitrary and a setback for U.S.-Cuba relations. Josefina Vidal, the top Cuban diplomat for North America, said she has heard “the old speech” before. 

Vidal said Trump’s new measures are meant to put “pressure on the Cuban government to change. Has it happened in the past?”

Sen. Marco Rubio told reporters that he wants the list to be longer and include the Gran Caribe Hotel Group and Cubanacan. He believes there are more entities controlled by the military, intelligence, or security services or personnel that should have been in the list of forbidden business partnerships. The State Department plans to update the list and will enforce it on a case-by-case basis.

Follow this story