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Minnesota will still seek Cuban deals

By the A.M. Cuba wire services

Minnesota's government and businesses will continue to engage with Cuba in the areas they can, like agricultural trade, despite U.S. President Donald Trump's partial rollback of the detente, Lt. Gov. Tina Smith said Thursday.

The first U.S. state representative to make an official visit to Communist-run Cuba
since Trump's announcement on Friday, Mrs. Smith said authorities there were worried about the setback to bilateral relations.

Leading a bipartisan trade delegation from Minnesota, she said she was therefore glad to carry the message that there was still plenty of support for continuing to normalize relations.

"There is no denying the actions Trump took last Friday are a real setback," Mrs. Smith, a Democrat, said in an interview in the gardens of Havana's iconic Hotel Nacional. "But the important thing to me is that there is bipartisan support at the federal level for normalizing and modernizing our relationship."

U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, a Minnesota
Democrat, in May led a bipartisan coalition of lawmakers, including Republican Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona, to introduce legislation to lift the U.S. trade embargo on Cuba.

Minnesota is one of the largest U.S. farming states, and Mrs. Smith's delegation included its agriculture commissioner and the head of its corn growers association. The delegation hopes to improve ties with and promote exports to Cuba.
Tina Smith
Lt. Gov. Tina Smith

U.S. farm groups have been particularly critical of the decision by Trump, a Republican, to retreat from Democratic predecessor Barack Obama's opening toward Cuba, saying it could derail huge growth in agricultural exports that totaled $221 million last year.

U.S. law exempts food from a decades-old embargo on U.S. trade with Cuba, although cumbersome rules on executing transactions have made deals difficult and costly.

While Trump's new Cuba policy does not directly target agriculture, it damages improved relations, the farm groups say.

Trump ordered tighter restrictions on Americans traveling to Cuba and a clampdown on U.S. business dealings with the island's military, which manages much of the economy.

The Minnesota delegation met this week with officials of the Cuban ministries of foreign affairs and agriculture, while also visiting a cooperative and local food markets.

But the tour did not include the usual trip to the Mariel port and special development zone, which Cuba hopes will attract foreign investment and become a major shipping hub in the Caribbean. It is controlled by a military-affiliated company.

"In Minnesota we don't have a lot of cocoa or coffee or pineapples, but we do have a lot of corn and beans," Mrs. Smith said. "We need each others' products."

Cuba invited the Minnesota delegation to a trade show later in the year, Mrs. Smith said, while Minnesota invited Cuban officials to visit.

"I am very hopeful all of those things will lead us to a place where we can move forward," she said.
—June 23, 2017

                                                                                                                                                      Photo by the Inter American Press Association (IAPA)
                                     Cuban journalist Henry Constantín Ferreiro could spend up to a year in prison
                                    for reporting the news.

Cuban authorities claim journalist 'distorted reality'

By the A.M. Cuba wire services

Tuesday, the Inter American Press Association (IAPA) rejected the accusation by Cuban authorities that journalist Henry Constantín Ferreiro committed the crime of "usurpation of legal capacity" -- in other words, exercising journalism.

Constantín, director of La Hora de Cuba magazine and regional vice president of the IAPA's Committee on Freedom of the Press and Information, ran into trouble last month when he was detained while trying to
board a plane at the airport in Camagüey, Cuba. He and another journalist, Sol Garcia Basulto of the publication 14ymedio, had planned on flying to Havana to cover the inaugural Oswaldo Paya: Freedom and Life award. The award is in honor of the deceased Cuban political activist.

Ms. Garcia was later released, but Constantín remained in custody and accused of disseminating harmful propaganda. He was charged March 17.

At the time, Matt Sanders, president of IAPA, described the charges against Constantín as "ridiculous."

According to IAPA, the Cuban government is using the excuse that Constantín broke the law by not properly registering as a journalist. However, in 1985, the Costa Rican government asked the Inter-American
 Court for an advisory opinion in this matter, and the court ruled that compulsory registration was incompatible with Article 13 of the American Convention on Human Rights.

Police claim Constantín was guilty of conducting interviews on a public highway in which he "distorted reality" and without being "empowered" to perform reporter work.

The IAPA reports that on nine occasions between 2016 and 2017, Constantín has been questioned on travel motives, guarded, threatened, suffered psychological assaults and reprisals,  retained in his residence and had his laptop, mobile phone, books and flash memories taken by Cuban authorities without just cause.

The IAPA is a nonprofit organization dedicated to the defense and promotion of freedom of the press and of expression in the Americas. It is composed of more than 1,300 publications from the Western Hemisphere. The IAPA is based in Miami in the United States.
March 21, 2017

Freedom House reports more Cuban dissidents held
By the A.M. Cuba wire services

Civil rights continue to be an issue in Cuba after Cuban forces Thursday allegedly detained at least five members of the Unión Patriótica de Cuba (UNPACU).

Freedom House, an independent watchdog organization that supports democratic change, denounced the actions of the Cuban government and issued this statement:

"The government of Cuba is trying to silence anyone bringing attention to the arrests and imprisonment of
critics, including members of the 
UNPACU," said Carlos Ponce, director for Latin America programs.

Authorities allegedly detained UNPACU members for providing information to journalists, which the government apparently views as a grave threat to security, according to Ponce.

Ponce said there's an urgent need for the United States and other Cuba neighbors to put pressure on the government of Cuba to respect the rights of citizens to express their opinions.
   — March 10, 2017

Trump's tweets insinuate Obama responsible for returning terrorists
By the A.M. Cuba wire services

President Donald Trump lashed out again at his predecessor, using Twitter Tuesday to criticize former president Barack Obama for allegedly releasing 122 "vicious prisoners" from the Guantanamo Bay military detention center who "returned to the battlefield."

Trump did not disclose the source of his allegation but appears to be citing a semi-annual report by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI), which said that as of July 2016, 122 former detainees had returned to terrorism.

But the updated version of the report, released later Tuesday, found that of the 182 detainees released after Obama took office only eight, or 4.4 percent, reengaged in terrorist activities. Another 13 detainees, or 7.1 percent, are suspected of rejoining terrorist groups.

Overall, ODNI found that of the 714 detainees released from the Guantanamo Bay facility, 121 returned to a life of terrorism (16.9 percent) with another 87 (12.2 percent) suspected of reengaging in terrorist activities. Of the 714 detainees that have been released from  Guantanamo

Bay, 532 were released by the administration of president George W. Bush.

Trump's Tuesday morning tweet came shortly after a news report on the "Fox & Friends" television program about a U.S. airstrike in Yemen that killed a former Guantanamo detainee. The report credited the Trump administration with killing the former prisoner and reported he was "released by Barack Obama."

This is the second time in recent days Trump has publicly attacked Obama. On Saturday, Trump posted a series of unsubstantiated tweets accusing Obama of wiretapping his presidential campaign at Trump Tower in New York City.

Obama considered closing the controversial prison on a U.S. military base in Cuba. Trump has said he would keep the base open, stop the release of prisoners and possibly send new prisoners there.
   — March 07, 2017

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