Florida and Latin Countries

Cuba and US Decade-Old Rum Battle

A bitter dispute over a sweet-tasting spirit appears to be nearing an endgame after more than a decade of legal wrangling.

Time and again, United States (US) courts have ruled against Cuba in its fight to control the US rights to the trademark Havana Club, the island’s flagship rum brand that is sold in more than 120 countries around the world – but not in the US.

By mid-June, Cuba could lose all chance of pressing its legal claims against Bacardi, which distributes a limited quantity of its own HavanaClub rum in Florida and says it plans to expand to other US states in the near future.

Indignant over what it considers wholesale piracy of a national icon, Cuba accuses the US of using an under-the-radar manoeuvre to block Cuba from paying the small trademark renewal fee, and has raised its concerns at increasingly high levels of government.

If the trademark expires, Cuba says it could retaliate on US trademarks currently protected on the island.

“The United States’ disrespectful attitude in divesting the legitimateCuban owners of the Havana Club brand can put at risk the brand and patent rights of American companies in our country,” Maria de los Angeles Sanchez, director of Cuba’s office of intellectual property, said Tuesday.

“Cuba reserves the right as a sovereign nation to act at the appropriate moment.”

Such retaliation might have limited immediate impact, as most US goods are barred from being sold to the island under the 50-year-old USembargo.

However, there are some legal sales of food items, and companies could also face tough and costly legal battles to win back their trademark rights in a post-embargo Cuba.      Read More           (TheGleanerAP) 

FloridaLatinConnection/  Varona 

Lawyer: American’s health declining in Cuba prison

A lawyer for an American imprisoned in Cuba for more than two years says his client’s health is declining and that Cuba is withholding the results of medical tests performed on him last month.


Peter Kahn, a lawyer for Alan Gross, said he sent a letter Monday to Cuba’s top diplomat in Washington requesting the test results. He said the Maryland man now has difficulty walking and has developed a mass behind his right shoulder blade.


Kahn said Gross, a U.S. government subcontractor who was working in Cuba when he was imprisoned in 2009, was told the test results would be provided so that American doctors could look at them. But he said that hasn’t happened though other test results have been provided in the past.

“They still haven’t shown up, and we’re not getting a straight answer as to why, which causes us even more concern because maybe there is something serious going on here,” Kahn said.

The Cuban government did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Gross, 63, was sentenced to 15 years for crimes against the state after he brought restricted communications equipment to the communist island nation while on a democracy-building program.

Kahn did not release the letter he sent to Jorge Bolanos, Cuba’s ambassador in Washington, but said he would wait for a response. He did provide a photo of Gross taken in May that shows he has lost a significant amount of weight.

Gross’ family has said the American had lost more than 100 pounds since being imprisoned in Cuba. But his health has worsened recently. Kahn said Gross used to walk in circles around his cell and do pull-ups but that he is no longer able to do so.

Cuban doctors told Gross he has emphysema, severe degenerative arthritis and a hematoma, a gathering of blood under the skin, on his shoulder.

His wife, Judy Gross, who now lives in Washington, D.C., has been sending over-the-counter drugs and a prescription cholesterol medication. But the medications are taking a long time to reach him, and she expressed worries about his health in an e-mailed statement.

“I am afraid that he is slipping away, and the Cubans’ refusal to provide his recent medical results only heightens my concerns. I am worried they might be concealing something,” she wrote.

Kahn said that Alan Gross is concerned about his health and also the health of his family, including his mother who has inoperable lung cancer. Kahn wrote directly to Cuban President Raul Castro in March asking that Gross be allowed to travel to his mother’s home in Texas for two weeks in April in order to be with her and celebrate her 90th birthday. Kahn promised Gross would return to Cuba, but he did not receive a reply.

In March, a judge in Miami allowed a Cuban intelligence agent on probation in the United States to fly to Cuba to visit his brother, who also has lung cancer. Rene Gonzalez later returned to finish serving a three-year probation sentence. The ruling had raised hopes Cuba might reciprocate with a similar humanitarian gesture for Gross.

“He gave his word that he was going to return, and he was a man of his word and he did return. There’s no reason why Alan shouldn’t be trusted in the same context,” Kahn said. (AP/Gresko)

FloridaLatinConnection/Arnoldo Varona, Editor 



A Spanish company drilling an exploratory well north of Havana is within a week of reaching its target: an oil reservoir believed to lie under Cuban waters roughly 60 miles from Florida.

That’s the word from energy and environmental experts who met in Washington on Thursday to discuss plans to prevent or respond to a potential oil spill and protect South Florida’s delicate coastline.

Rig used in Cuban waters

The experts, who are in touch with Cuban officials and the Spanish company Repsol, say the drilling has been done in a slow and safe manner. But they warned that plans to respond to a potential oil spill are still hampered by the U.S. embargo of Cuba, which restricts the equipment and personnel that can be sent to prepare in case of a blowout.

“In every way, I think the Cuban approach to this is responsible and appropriate to the risk they are undertaking,” said William K Reilly, former administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency under former President George H.W. Bush.

But the U.S. government, he said, “has not interpreted its sanctions policy in a way that would clearly make available in advance the kind of technologies that would be required.”

That includes capping equipment needed to stop a major leak, he said. “That includes even the spare parts to a blowout preventer.”

He and several oil industry and environmental experts urged President Obama to grant a general license for American companies to rush into Cuban waters without restriction to help stop a spill at its source.

The staging area for needed equipment should be in Cuba for a fast response, they said, but instead it is being assembled by Helix Energy Systems near Tampa. Some equipment will also be housed in South Florida.

The Coast Guard cannot enter Cuban-controlled waters without permission from the Cuban government. But Coast Guard officials say they are increasingly confident that the Cubans would allow them to help cap and contain a spill at the source.

The initial drilling is within a week of reaching the depth needed to tap an expected reservoir beneath Cuban waters, said Lee Hunt, past president of the International Association of Drilling Contractors.

“The desirability for a command center in a Cuban port for spill-response staging is very high,” Hunt said. “The likelihood of it happening? Nil.”

(SunSentinel/Gibson)   Florida Latin Connection/ Varona

Fla. Sen. Marco Rubio visits Guantanamo

Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio visited the U.S. Navy base at Guantánamo Bay — setting foot on Cuban soil for the first time in his life — in a solo fact-finding visit on Tuesday that the Cuban-American lawmaker cast as nothing more than typical congressional business as a novice member of the intelligence committee.

“Certainly, it was touching to be able to fly over the island from a distance and see it and know that’s the land that saw your parents and your grandparents born,” Rubio said on his return to Miami in a U.S. Navy C-12 aircraft.

“It’s a place I hope to visit one day soon — a free Cuba, one where the people of Cuba can chose their own leaders and chose their own future.”

Dozens of members of both houses of Congress have made the day trip to the outpost since President George W. Bush set it up soon after the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

But the trip by Rubio, whose parents immigrated to the United States from Cuba in 1956, took on a special significance as a dozen reporters thronged his return to ask about where it fit into is role as a potential vice presidential running mate to Mitt Romney.

The senator swatted the question aside, calling it a routine stop as “a member of the intelligence committee,” noting that after not yet two years in the Senate, there are still “a lot of places I need to visit and get up to speed with.”

Rubio noted that he had planned to visit the base last August but canceled because his mother became ill. He declined to answer a question on whether, based on his briefings Tuesday, President Barack Obama was any closer to realizing his ambition in emptying the prison camps.

“These are enemy combatants who are directly engaged in the fight against the United States and our interests,” he said, adding “there’s an ongoing military tribunal process, certainly that’s going to have to work its way through.”

While there, the senator got “an intelligence overview” at the detention center, toured Camp 6, the medium-security lockup where about 80 percent of the 169 captives at Guantánamo are currently held, and met with some Cuban residents at the base who, as Rubio put it, “find themselves in an odd migratory situation” — they moved into the base during the 1960s, Rubio said, “after Fidel Castro closed the gate.”

He refused to say whether he was allowed entry to Guantánamo’s secretive Camp 7, where the United States houses former CIA captives, to get a glimpse of the accused 9/11 plotters who are held there.

He did say that at no time during the one-day briefing and inspection did members of the military ask him for help in obtaining additional facilities or military provisions for Guantánamo.

Across the years, detention center staff members have presented visiting dignitaries with ball caps and tri-folded American flags that flew over the base and other items as mementos of their visits. Rubio said he brought back no souvenirs from his first steps on Cuban soil.

In another Guantánamo development Tuesday, the judge handling the 9/11 trial postponed until Aug. 8 the next hearing in the case.

Army Col. James L. Pohl, the judge, had earlier set the next hearing for June 12-15. But the attorney for reputed Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammed had a conflict on June 12: the scheduled execution of another client in Boise, Idaho.

Pohl is now considering whether to split up the five-man conspiracy trial, a notion that the Pentagon prosecution team opposes. The war court prosecution team argued in a filing unsealed Tuesday that the men in 2008 wrote that they considered the “accusations against them as a ‘badge of honor’ and sought martyrdom.”

Defense lawyers have until Thursday to advise the judge on whether Mohammed and his four alleged accomplices want separate trials. (KansasCityStar/Rosenberg)

Florida Latin Connection.org / Varona 


Florida and Cuba: Brazil’s Odebrecht sues Florida over Cuba, Syria law

The U.S. subsidiary of Brazilian construction giant Odebrecht has filed a lawsuit challenging a recently signed Florida law barring local governments from hiring companies that do business in Cuba or Syria.

The lawsuit, filed on Monday in Miami federal court, claims the measure is “unconstitutional and unenforceable” and argues that the federal government, not states, has the authority to enact laws involving foreign affairs.


Florida and Cuba/ The Florida Connection/ Arnoldo Varona, Editor 

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