Hurricane Irma devastates areas of Cuba, kills at least 10

After Hurricane Irma left a trail of destruction in Cuba, officials were working to deliver aid to the areas in need Monday afternoon. Authorities estimate the Category 5 storm killed at least 10 in the northern coast of the island.

Authorities report issuing mandatory evacuations for about 1 million Cubans nationwide. Many were still unable to return to their homes. 

Reporters working for the government’s media reported most of the storm’s victims were in Havana. The powerful storm surge flooded central residential neighborhoods along the coast of the island’s capital Saturday. 

“This was the worst of the storms I have been through, and the sea rose much higher,” said Hector Pulpito, who was working as a custodian at a parking lot in the Vedado neighborhood. “The trees were shaking. Metal roofs went flying.”

The worst seawater flooding — about one-third of a mile inland — was between the Almendares River and the harbor. 

The Communist island’s tourism industry also suffered. Several hotels were damaged in the northern keys off Ciego de Avila and Camaguey provinces. 

Granma, the government’s newspaper, reported Irma’s wind gusts destroyed the Jardines del Rey Airport.

The victims’ identities 

Osvaldo Abreu Barroso, 71, was electrocuted while trying to remove the TV antena. He died in the Plaza de la Revolucion municipality in Havana. 

Alberto Francisco Flores Garcia, 77, a pole collapsed and hit him. He was walking along the Egido Street in Havana when he died. 

Maria del Carmen Arregoitia Cardona, 27, died when a balcony collapsed and fell over the bus traveling in Havana. She was from the municipality of Bauta in the province of Artemisa.

Yolendis Castillo Martinez, 27, died when a balcony collapsed and fell over the bus traveling in Havana. She was from Santiago de cuba. 

Roydis Valdes Perez, 54, and his brother Walfrido Antonio Valdes Perez, 51, died when a building collapsed in Havana. 

Nieves Martinez Burgaleta, 89, drowned in the storm surge. Her body was found floating in front of her home in Havana. 

Alberto Manzano Martinez, 65, died when his home collapsed after he refused to evacuate from his home in Matanzas. 

Orlando Torres Cruz, 53, died when a home collapsed after he refused to evacuate in Ciego de Avila. 

Edilberto Cabrera Rodriguez, 64, died when a home collapsed after he refused to evacuate in Camaguey. 

This is a developing story. Refresh this link for the latest information. 

 

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Cuban artist faces threat of prison if he doesn’t remove all of his work

Yulier Rodriguez Perez was born in Florida. Not the state in the U.S. He is from Cuba’s Florida, a municipality in the province of Camaguey.

Getting spray paint and materials isn’t easy for graffiti writers working on the Communist island. Despite the challenges, the 27-year-old abstractionist said he has painted at least 200 walls in Havana since he moved there about three years ago. 

His deformed creatures are hard to miss. In one small wall, a thin layer of ruby red paint surrounds the charcoal drawing of a shouting head. In another, blue and red blend into purple, as two floating figures reach out for each other. 

“I think that graffiti is an artistic work,” said Rodriguez, better known as artist Yulier P. 

While in the U.S. walls with high visibility are an advertising gold mine, in Cuba the walls with visibility are reserved for the government’s propaganda. Rodriguez defied the norm. Authorities kicked him out of his art studio. He was arrested Aug. 17 and he was released on the evening of Aug. 18.

For graffiti writers worldwide, the boundary between being a vandal and an artist is not clearly defined. Rodriguez said he is an artist who has been beautifying crumbling walls. The Cuban government disagrees and ordered him to cover all of his 200 paintings in Havana by Friday as a condition for his release.

Rodriguez’s supporters believe Cuban authorities set him up for failure with an impossible task. His troubles began after an interview with 14 y Medio last year. The website is part of a wave of illegal independent media critical of the government.

“My pictures are like fables, a portrait of people’s experiences … we are souls in a purgatory called Cuba,” Rodriguez said during the 14 y Medio interview.

Cuban activist Yoani Sanchez, who has also been the subject of censorship and harassment, started the news site in 2014. 

Rodriguez claims Cuban authorities also harassed him and intimidated him after he came back from an exhibit in New York in July. He visited the Museum of Modern Art and he left his mark on a corner in Brooklyn. It was a black and white piece of unnatural figures connecting like Salvador Dali’s “Premonition of Civil War.” 

Rodriguez fears authorities are getting ready to move from a penalty over vandalism to a criminal charge of “dangerousness.” It’s a criminal charge designed to punish someone’s potential for crime. Critics of the law say it is used to limit freedom of expression. 

The news of Rodriguez’s arrest was disturbing to Danilo Maldonado, a 34-year-old Cuban artist known as  El Sexto. He moved to Miami in January after he was imprisoned over his political graffiti after the death of Fidel Castro. It wasn’t his first time in prison.

Maldonado and Rodriguez are among the new wave of Cuban artists who belong to the lowbrow art movement, which has deep roots in New York’s and Los Angeles’ hip-hop and punk cultures. Supporters believe graffiti needs to be decriminalized worldwide as a form of expression on decrepit and abandoned urban areas.

Amnesty International has been following Rodriguez’s case and also followed Maldonado’s case when he was in prison.

 

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‘Sonic device’ mystery in Cuba: List of U.S. diplomats’ ailments grows

After the U.S. embassy opened in Cuba in 2015 not everyone on the communist island was willing to welcome the group of U.S. diplomats who moved to Havana.

The extent of the aggressions they faced while former President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro moved to normalize relations between the two Cold War foes is still unclear. 

The U.S. State Department asked The University of Miami Health System for help with at least six of their employees earlier this year. Investigators later considered the possibility of a covert sonic device used to spy on the diplomats or to threaten them with a “health attack.” 

“It took time to figure out what it was and this is still ongoing,” the U.S. State Department’s Heather Nauert said during a news conference early in August. She also said, “we don’t know exactly where [covert sonic device] came from.”

U.S. laws protect the privacy of the diplomats’ medical records. While most of the details remain a mystery, the State Department confirmed there were diplomats who suffered hearing loss. Their complaints included nausea, headaches and feelings of disorientation. 

CNN reported at least one needed a hearing aid. The New York Times reported one had a more serious illness that involved a blood disorder. And on Wednesday, CBS News reported some diplomats suffered traumatic brain injuries and damage to the central nervous system during the “health attacks.”

The U.S. expelled two Cuban diplomats in May 23. The Cuban Foreign Ministry released a statement saying “Cuba has never allowed or will it allow the Cuban territory to be used for any action against accredited diplomatic officials or their families, without exception.”

Cubans have good relations with Canadians, so there was confusion when the Canadian Global Affairs spokeswoman Brianne Maxwell said in August that at least one of their diplomats in Cuba was also treated for hearing loss. 

“The government is actively working — including with U.S. and Cuban authorities — to ascertain the cause,” Maxwell said. 

FBI agents are assisting the State Department’s bureau of diplomatic security with the investigation. U.S. and Cuban officials will meet next month. 

 

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Amid movement against Confederacy symbols, General Lee Street in Havana goes unnoticed

As white southerners, Robert E. Lee and Fitzhugh Lee didn’t speak out against slavery. As Confederate Army veterans, they also didn’t speak out against the violence perpetrated by white supremacists during Reconstruction.

That wasn’t forgotten in Charlottesville, where a defender of white supremacy killed Heather D. Heyer Saturday and injured several other protesters who wanted a monument to Robert E. Lee removed. After the tragedy, the statues and street names honoring the memory of Confederate leaders have been coming down. 

There is pertinence in the name of a street in Havana, but there is no heated debate. General Lee Street begins at Via Blanca, Spanish for White Road, and it ends at Heredia. The street crosses a section of the Diez de Octubre municipality’s Santo Suarez neighborhood. 

Marta La Madriz, who lives in the General Lee Street area, was confused about the origin of the name. 

“Those are the names of, how should I say this, from the days of the Spaniards,” said La Madriz in Spanish. “They placed the names of those who fought during the war of independence.”

 

 

Few know the street is named after Fitzhugh “Fitz” Lee, one of Gen. Lee’s nephews, who lived in Havana. After serving as a Confederate cavalry general during the Civil War and becoming the 40th Governor of Virginia, he was named consul general in Havana in 1896.

Fitzhugh Lee was among those who believed the annexation of Cuba to the U.S. would be indispensable. 

“Cuba, forcibly disjoined from its own unnatural connection with Spain, and incapable of self-support, can gravitate only toward the North American Union, which by the same law of nature, cannot cast her off from her bosom,” Fitzhugh Lee wrote. 

The West Point graduate later served as a U.S. Army general during the Spanish-American War. In his book, the “Cuba’s Struggle Against Spain,” published in 1899, he described the crisis that led up to the war.

Sugar was the staple product of Cuba. The manufacture of beet sugar in Europe and a tariff in America caused the complete stagnation of the industry. The abolition of slavery made matters worse in an economic way.

“The reckless extravagance of the government piled up the debt upon the people of Cuba until it became unbearable … There was no personal safety, no freedom of speech nor of the press,” he wrote. 

After the war, Fitzhugh Lee didn’t go back to Virginia. He remained in Cuba to help to reinstate order as the military governor of Havana and Pinar del Rio. The U.S. Library of Congress archived a Jan. 20, 1899 film of a procession where Lee is leading a troop down the street in Havana. 

 

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Amid movement against Confederacy symbols, General Lee Street in Havana goes unnoticed

As white southerners, Robert E. Lee and Fitzhugh Lee didn’t speak out against slavery. As Confederate Army veterans, they also didn’t speak out against the violence perpetrated by white supremacists during Reconstruction.

That wasn’t forgotten in Charlottesville, where a defender of white supremacy killed Heather D. Heyer Saturday and injured several other protesters who wanted a monument to Robert E. Lee removed. After the tragedy, the statues and street names honoring the memory of Confederate leaders have been coming down. 

There is pertinence in the name of a street in Havana, but there is no heated debate. General Lee Street begins at Via Blanca, Spanish for White Road, and it ends at Heredia. The street crosses a section of the Diez de Octubre municipality’s Santo Suarez neighborhood. 

Marta La Madriz, who lives in the General Lee Street area, was confused about the origin of the name. 

“Those are the names of, how should I say this, from the days of the Spaniards,” said La Madriz in Spanish. “They placed the names of those who fought during the war of independence.”

 

Few know the street is named after Fitzhugh “Fitz” Lee, one of Gen. Lee’s nephews, who lived in Havana. After serving as a Confederate cavalry general during the Civil War and becoming the 40th Governor of Virginia, he was named consul general in Havana in 1896.

Fitzhugh Lee was among those who believed the annexation of Cuba to the U.S. would be indispensable. 

“Cuba, forcibly disjoined from its own unnatural connection with Spain, and incapable of self-support, can gravitate only toward the North American Union, which by the same law of nature, cannot cast her off from her bosom,” Fitzhugh Lee wrote. 

The West Point graduate later served as a U.S. Army general during the Spanish-American War. In his book, the “Cuba’s Struggle Against Spain,” published in 1899, he described the crisis that led up to the war.

Sugar was the staple product of Cuba. The manufacture of beet sugar in Europe and a tariff in America caused the complete stagnation of the industry. Lee wrote the abolition of slavery made matters worse in an economic way.

“The reckless extravagance of the government piled up the debt upon the people of Cuba until it became unbearable … There was no personal safety, no freedom of speech nor of the press,” he wrote. 

After the war, Fitzhugh Lee didn’t go back to Virginia. He remained in Cuba to help to reinstate order as the military governor of Havana and Pinar del Rio. The U.S. Library of Congress archived a Jan. 20, 1899 film of a procession where Lee is leading a troop down the street in Havana. 

 

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Cuba slows down self-employment sector

About seven years ago, Cuban President Raul Castro stepped away from his brother Fidel Castro’s view of the island’s business owners as “a class of parasites” who were able to “prosper from the work of others.” 

When Raul Castro implemented his economic reforms on the communist island, some were able to turn their homes into small restaurants now known as “paladares” and others were able to run bed and breakfast operations now known as “casas particulares.”

Some Cuban-Americans in Miami viewed investing in this sector as an opportunity to be able to help improve the lives of the relatives they left behind. And instead of waiting for a government job, teenagers started to dream of having their own business.

The rules of the game changed Tuesday.

“New authorizations for group activities will not be given until the perfection of self-employment has been achieved,” a government announcement published Tuesday in the Granma newspaper said. 

Cuba’s Communist government announced that they will temporarily suspend issuing new licenses to entrepreneurs. Cuban officials estimate there are nearly 568,000 Cubans who are self employed — about 12 percent of the work force .

DOWNLOAD: Here is the government’s list

Officials assured them that the new measures are not meant to roll back the development of the sector, but to improve it. Authorities are working on fighting fraud and tax evasion by developing a policy that would require the licensed self-employee to use verifiable bank accounts. 

“Putting the house in order is the highest priority,” the announcement said. 

During his most recent speech to parliament, Raul Castro said they were not renouncing the development of the private sector, but it was necessary to “confront the illegalities and other deviations from the established policy.”

To avoid defying the socialist ideal of equality, Cuban officials want to make sure that no one but the government is getting rich. Entrepreneurs have to pay monthly taxes and turn over about half of their net-profit earnings to the government.

Owners of “paladares” also face the challenge of supply. They don’t have access to bulk vendors or wholesaler purveyors with competitive prices. But they do have access to the black market, also known as buying “a la izquierda,” which cheats the government-controlled supply chain.

Cuban officials are also trying to figure out ways to prevent entrepreneurs from feeding the booming black market or engaging in money laundering. How or when Cuban officials will do this remains an enigma. 

Local 10 News Andrea Torres contributed to this story from Miami. 

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