Oswaldo Payá’s daughter Rosa Maria says Cuban dissident’s harassment continues

Five years ago Saturday, Oswaldo Payá was in the back seat of a blue rental car in eastern Cuba. He was traveling with Harold CeperoÁngel Carromero and Jens Aron Modig.

They were on their way to meet with supporters of the Christian Liberation Movement, a Cuban dissident party Payá founded in 1988.  Despite many threats, Payá continued his work.

For his work, the European Parliament awarded him the Sakharov Prize in 2003. Cepero was a fellow dissident and attorney from Ciego de Avila. Carromero was from Spain and Modig was from Sweden. 

“My father dedicated his life so all Cubans could have rights,” said Payá’s daughter, Rosa Maria Payá. 

Carromero was driving when another vehicle rammed into the rental car from behind. He lost control and hit a tree. Payá died in the deserted road. Cepero died in a hospital in Bayamo. Modig said he was sleeping when the tragedy happened. 

Rosa Maria Payá continues to demand an international investigation since her dad had dual citizenship from Spain and Cuba. She says the Cuban and Spanish governments continue to ignore her pleas. 

Cuban authorities reported there wasn’t evidence of another car and put the blame on Carromero. He faced vehicular homicide charges. After a trial and a coerced confession, he was sentenced to four years in prison. Cubans later released him to authorities in Spain.

Three years ago, Ortelio Abrahantes Bacallao, 42, a former officer with Cuba’s Ministry of Interior, told El Nuevo Herald’s Juan Tamayo government agents were to blame for the fatal crash. 

Rosa Maria Payá met with Pope Francis in 2014. She has continued her father’s work with the Cuba Decides campaign. She said the harassment of dissidents continues on the island.  A group of dissidents recently marched to a Roman Catholic church. 

“Some opposition members were not allowed to attend Mass,” Payá said. 

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

 

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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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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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Make-A-Wish sends pediatric cancer patient to Cuba

Tyler Machado was allowed to make a wish. He could have asked for anything. But instead of a fast car or a meeting with his favorite rapper, he chose to visit his grandparents in Cuba. 

The Make-A-Wish foundation granted the 11-year-old non-Hodgkin lymphoma patient’s dream. Taylor thought he was on his way to a doctor’s visit in New Jersey when they surprised him with a red carpet and a limousine.

Tyler, a stage 2 cancer patient, remembers the surprise: “Once I saw the limo and the camera people, I was like ‘oh no!’ 

When Tyler arrived to Havana, he became the first child from the United States to visit the island with the help of the Make-A-Wish foundation since President Barack Obama lifted the travel ban. 

During his six-day trip, Tyler traveled to the small town of Caraballo, near Havana. He was in tears when he met his 92-year-old great grandfather Reynaldo Machado, who is visually impaired. 

Genesis Ramos, Tyler’s mom, said she was not surprised to see her son’s reaction.

“He has always wanted to meet his family here, see where he is from,”  Ramos said. 

Tyler has been working on his Spanish. His great grandfather, who doesn’t speak English, gave him some life advise: “To have a girlfriend and have a baby, so I can continue the last name and then he said have 5 girlfriends.”

The communications director for Make-A-Wish said the foundation is working on trips to Cuba for other children throughout the U.S.

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