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Victoria Jones created and edits Quick Morning News. She is chief White House correspondent with Washington DC-based Talk Media News, where her insight and analysis are made available to over 400 news talk radio stations around the country and internationally.
 

Quick Morning News will not publish on Wednesday, 23 March. We will be back on Thursday, 24 March

Cuba Brief

Talk Media News’ Victoria Jones is in Havana for the historic visit of President Obama. This morning, the president delivers remarks to the people of Cuba, then he meets with members of civil society, including human rights activists, and later attends a Major League Baseball exhibition game: Tampa Bay Rays v Cuban National Team. Next up: Argentina

 

Obama, Castro Clash on Human Rights (AP, Guardian, ABC News, LAT, me)
• In an extraordinary joint presser following historic meetings Monday, President Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro clashed on the issue of human rights in Cuba. “I’ve met with people who have been subject to arbitrary detention,” President Obama said in reply to a question. Obama repeatedly pushed Castro to take steps to address his country’s human rights record
 
• Still, Obama heralded a “new day” in the U.S.-Cuba relationship during the 55 minute session. Castro was blistering in his criticism of the American embargo and pressed Obama to return the Guantanamo detention center (sooo not going to happen – and Castro knew it. Cubans were literally open-mouthed watching the back-and-forth and Obama prodding Castro)
 
• Obama promised “the embargo’s going to end,” though he couldn’t say when Congress would come round to his way of thinking. Obama argued that through diplomacy, business and travel, Americans and Cubans “will recognize that people are people. And in that context, I believe that change will occur.” (everybody I’ve spoken to here in Havana thinks the same thing)
 
• Castro criticized the U.S.’s record on human rights. He noted that Cuba ensures free healthcare and education and equal pay for women. Asked about human rights, Castro argued that no country in the world guarantees all rights or freedoms (zap). He praised Obama, and hoped for “civilized coexistence” despite their differences

• Listen: Sen Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) and Talk Media News’ Victoria Jones, in Havana for President Obama’s historic trip to Cuba, talk about issues surrrounding food sourcing for the island, how to preserve the unique personality of the island in the face of change and efforts to lift the trade embargo, as well as human rights

 

• Castro appeared agitated at times during the questioning, professing to not understand whether questions were directed to him (faker). But when an American reporter asked about political prisoners, he pushed back aggressively. If the journalist could name names, he said, “they will be released tonight.” “What political prisoners? Give me a name or names.” (she didn’t)
 
• After responding to a handful of questions, Castro ended the presser abruptly, declaring “I think this is enough.” There was a weird cross between a handshake and the raising of a revolutionary fist between the two men at the end of the presser (sort of a #fail) President Obama meets with Cuban dissidents today. WH officials spent weeks pushing Cuban officials for the presser
 
• Those of us in the WH press corps in Havana didn’t know until a few hours before whether the press conference would take place, and there were doubts until minutes before. Castro very rarely gives press conferences, though he sometimes answers questions off the cuff (he’s not answerable to anyone – whole thing was a bit surreal)
 
• At a briefing for reporters in Havana a few hours later, WH deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes said the U.S. regularly raises cases with Cuba and some are resolved but added Cuba typically insists they’re being held for other crimes. “I’ve shared many lists with the Cuban govt,” Rhodes said (a bit wearily, I thought)

• Soon after the statements, several reporters took to social media to share lists of already published names of political prisoners who remain in detention. On 19 March, the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation published a list of 51 “prisoners of conscience,” some of whom they say have been jailed for over two decades

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• Cuba’s leading human rights commission last June accused the govt of having 60 political prisoners, a number the group acknowledges includes armed insurrectionists, hijackers and spies as well as peaceful political activists. The report was the first since Cuba released 53 people in connection with secret talks with the U.S. that led to historic detente
 
• Speaking later at an event for American and Cuban entrepreneurs, Obama took a thinly veiled swipe at socialism. “There are some economic models that just don’t work,” he said, adding later, “it gets harder and harder” for those economies to sustain themselves (he didn’t mention socialism by name and the comments aren’t being widely reported)
 
• In Havana on Monday, many Cubans seemed uncertain about whether they had permission to try to see Obama, never mind express a point of view. Cubans all over the city seemed constantly to be asking where Obama would be (wherever the streets were closed). “We want change,” said Angel Maturell, a small business owner. “All kinds. Any kind. We are tired of waiting.”
 
• Several American business leaders joined Obama on the trip. Google announced plans to offer internet at speeds nearly 70 times faster than those now available (snail’s pace to disappear in puff of smoke). Carnival announced that it will be the first cruise line in more than five decades to sail a cruise ship to Cuba – (beginning in May, if you’re thinking of booking)
 
• Obama told ABC News that he would be willing to meet aging former leader Fidel Castro “just as a symbol of the end of this Cold War chapter,” but given Castro’s ailing health, he has no idea if that’s realistic (some politicians would love to get the optics of that…)
 
• Talk Media News’ Victoria Jones, in Havana to cover President Obama’s historic trip to the island, talks with Michael Maisel of Engage Cuba about meaningful change for the island, as well as what Maisel says is black and white media coverage of Cuban human rights and how things look different when you probe deeper

 

Cuba: Normalizing Ties – 5 Things to Know (WSJ, me)

• While general tourism, such as beach vacations, remain prohibited by the embargo, individual Americans can travel to Cuba without prior U.S. permission on “people to people” visits, Regular U.S. airline, ferry and cruise ship service is authorized but hasn’t yet begun (so Carnival’s cruises will be “cultural,” and “educational” lol)
 

• Lifted restrictions on the amount of money that can be sent by individuals in the U.S. and elsewhere to Cubans on the island, in what experts say is a back door for small business investment. Individual Cubans can now have U.S. bank accounts and earn unlimited income for work performed for U.S. companies
 

• Granted exemptions for U.S. hotel groups to manage properties owned or controlled by Cuban state entities, something explicitly banned by embargo provisions. Airbnb last year was granted permission to rent out rooms and homes of individual Cubans
 

• Issued licenses for the previously prohibited export of a range of technology and industrial products for communications and manufacturing on the island. The first American factory on the island has been approved by Washington to begin assembling tractors on the island
 

• Tasks remaining include the complete scrapping of the trade embargo by Congress, something unlikely in the near future despite growing bipartisan support. Despite the whittling of the embargo, U.S. agencies continue to punish companies or individuals considered to violate its restrictions



• Late Saturday night in Old Havana, I’m hanging out with Ernest Hemingway in La Floridita, the legendary bar which dates back to 1817. Pic taken by colleague from Mexico. Colleagues from Argentina propping up the bar. The daiguiri was invented here and Hemingway made the bar a fave hangout – I had a special mocktail invented for me by the – horrified – bartender

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Victoria Jones – Editor