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from Reihan Salam:

Why Congress must rethink sanctions on Cuba

Alan Gross, the 64-year-old American who has been imprisoned by Cuban authorities since 2009, is an unremarkable man on the surface. He could be a friend or colleague, or an uncle you’ve been meaning to call.

Yet what distinguishes Gross from most of the rest of us, myself included, is his courage. As a sub-contractor for the U.S. Agency for International Development, Gross traveled to Cuba to help private citizens gain access to the Internet, and thus to news and information not managed or manufactured by the Cuban government. Gross likely knew that his work was dangerous, but he may have underestimated the risk he was taking. In a heartbreaking letter to President Obama, Gross recounted the many ways his wife and daughters have suffered in his absence. He beseeched the president to intervene in his case.

And so Gross, a husband and father from Maryland who seems to want nothing more than to be reunited with his family, has reignited the decades-long debate over how the United States should deal with Cuba, a rogue state that continues to adhere to Marxist-Leninist one-party rule long after the collapse of its Soviet patron.

While some lawmakers, including Cuban-American Sens. Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Robert Menendez (D-NJ), have urged the Obama administration not to negotiate -- but instead to demand Gross’s unconditional release -- Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) has led the chorus of those calling for the president to play ball with Cuba’s rulers, or rather to “not shrink from the obligation to negotiate for his freedom.”

from The Great Debate:

Cuba’s uneasy Internet connection

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Last week, an Associated Press article, “US Secretly Created ‘Cuban Twitter’ to Stir Unrest,” sparked an uproar. The U.S. Agency for International Development had funded a Cuban version of Twitter called ZunZuneo , the AP reported, that attracted more than 40,000 users before ending in 2012, according to the story.

Commentators have derided the program as boneheaded, dangerously absurd and disrespectful to Cubans. Analysts have discussed its pros and cons. The White House maintains that the program was not “covert.” USAID contests aspects of the AP story.

from Nicholas Wapshott:

Obama, Castro, and the perversity of the Cuban embargo

There has been a lot of clucking about President Barack Obama shaking hands with Raúl Castro at the funeral of Nelson Mandela. For some it was bad enough that a president the Republican vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin accused of “palling around with terrorists” should extend his hand to a Cuban communist tyrant, while mourning a world hero that former Vice President Dick Cheney still thinks was a terrorist.

Whether Obama was entering into Mandela’s contagious spirit of reconciliation and forgiveness, or following in the footsteps of Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan in reaching out to communist enemies, or merely being good-mannered is not clear. What seems plain, however, is that nothing much will come of it. The trade and travel embargo imposed upon Cuba by the United States in 1960 after the communist revolution nationalized American-owned property will remain in force.  

from Photographers' Blog:

A child’s autistic world

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Havana, Cuba

By Enrique de la Osa

When I arrived early at the Dora Alonso School, Julio came over, shook my hand and gave me the latest weather report. He did it with such precision that I didn't know what to say. Julio is 24 years old and a die-hard meteorology aficionado. But instead of working as an expert predictor of the weather, he was making a living sweeping the school’s patios. Julio is also a patient at the school - he suffers from autism.

The Dora Alonso School specializes in treating children who suffer from autism spectrum disorders. The building housing the school was a military facility before the Revolution, and it was inaugurated as a school for children with special needs ten years ago by Cuba’s former President Fidel Castro. The school is surrounded by a lush green garden and there is no outside noise. It is extremely peaceful. More than 40 children, ranging from the age of four to six spend their days at the school with a group of therapists, doctors, physiotherapists and psychologists who not only work with the children but prepare parents and teachers as well.

from Photographers' Blog:

Is it him, or is it not?

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Havana, Cuba

By Desmond Boylan

Yesterday, a strong rumor that a delayed flight from Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport due to land in Havana could be carrying fugitive former U.S. intelligence contractor Edward Snowden, sent dozens of reporters scrambling to the airport. Since June 23, this has happened many times already.

As I watched passengers gather in the arrival hall, the gentleman in the picture below, with the blue shirt, grabbed my attention. Could he be the fugitive?

from Photographers' Blog:

Destination Cuba: Alongside empty seat 17A

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Havana, Cuba

By Maxim Shemetov

I've never been to Cuba before. Frankly speaking, today is my first visit. It's a very short one of only 24 hours, of which now I have only half left to walk around Old Havana and to swim in the ocean while the global hysteria over the uncatchable Edward Snowden carries on.

For me, this story started on Sunday when I woke up and slowly went to the office. It was supposed to be a usual working weekend when almost nothing happens. Almost... Incoming calls suddenly started to light up my cell phone. The big story with Snowden as the lead actor flying somewhere via Moscow began. It is hard to describe all of the next 24 hours spent in the airport, with expensive tickets booked to get inside the transit zone at Sheremetyevo and disappointment that a lot of energy was wasted on information that turned out to be wrong.

from Photographers' Blog:

Fidel and Miss Green, till death do they part

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Sagua La Grande, Cuba

By Desmond Boylan

I know a Cuban man named Fidel who is tall, well-built and hardworking. He is known to have had several wives and many girlfriends during his life, and now has a pregnant daughter who will soon make him a grandfather, but those details of his life are diffuse. What he does admit is that the undisputed love of his life is Señorita Verde, or Miss Green.

Fidel gets on well with his neighbors, likes telling jokes, and is always in a good mood. At times he looks a bit nostalgic or sad as his house badly needs repair, and he worries the whole house will fall down on him and Miss Green during the heavy rains and strong winds of the new hurricane season.

from Photographers' Blog:

“I’ve never been in an elevator”

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Havana, Cuba

By Desmond Boylan

Jesus Salgado, “Chinito”, was fished out of shark infested waters from a frail, sinking boat by a U.S. Coast Guard patrol near the Bahamas, back in 2003.  He had finally made his illegal exit from Cuba after a lot of planning, and even after spending a year in prison when a previous plan to escape was thwarted by the authorities. In those days, just thinking of leaving the country illegally was heavily penalized.

Salgado was not returned to the Republic of Cuba by the Americans as he would have been under today’s legislation. Under the U.S. government’s “wet foot, dry foot policy” in force today, he would have been sent home or to a third country since he was found at sea.

from The Great Debate:

Post Chavez: Can U.S. rebuild Latin American ties?

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The funeral of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez earlier this month was a massive celebration of a vitriolic foe of the United States. This tribute should make Washington take a fresh look not only at its relations with Venezuela but also with all of Latin America.

Virtually every Latin American country sent a high-level delegation to show its esteem for Chavez, who, during his 14 years in office, regularly vilified the United States, disparaged its leaders and campaigned tirelessly to end the U.S. role in the region. The presidents of Latin America’s six largest nations — including the closest U.S. regional allies, Mexico, Colombia and Chile — traveled to Caracas for the burial ceremonies. Never in Latin America, as many commentators noted, has a deceased leader been given a grander memorial — not even Argentina’s adored Juan Domingo Peron back in 1974.

from Photographers' Blog:

Inside Guantanamo Bay

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Guantanamo Bay, Cuba

By Bob Strong

My visit to the U.S. naval station in Guantanamo Bay Cuba began much like any other military embed. I sent an application to the Press Affairs Office (PAO) explaining who I worked for and the reason for my visit, and a couple of weeks later the trip was approved. The base is divided into two sections, the naval station which has been in existence since 1903, and the Joint Task Force (JTF GTMO) which is where the detainees are held. A special ID is needed to access the JTF section of the base and most residents of the naval station never go there. My visit request was directed at the JTF side, but I was able to work on the naval section as well.

GALLERY: INSIDE GUANTANAMO

I was met at the airport by two Sergeants, who would be my escorts for the entire trip. Although technically I could walk around the naval base unescorted, taking pictures on any military installation often attracts attention, and I ended up doing all of my work while accompanied by PAO personnel. After I arrived I was briefed on what could and could not be photographed, and reminded that all photographs and videos had to be reviewed and approved by military censors. This generally took place at the end of the day and was referred to as the OPSEC (operational security) review.

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