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U.S. Eases Restrictions on Travel to Cuba and Bank Transactions

WASHINGTON — The Obama administration announced a new round of measures chipping away at the decades-long sanctions against Cuba Tuesday, encouraging more person-to-person educational travel and allowing Cuban nationals to get jobs in the United States or to open U.S. bank accounts.

The rules could allow Cuban athletes and entertainers — including baseball players — to get jobs in the United States without having to defect from Cuba, officials said.

"It certainly does address the ability of Cuban athletes who could earn salaries in the United States to do so. That's obviously one of the issues that (Major League Baseball) has been discussing with Cuba," said Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes. But for the rules to allow a new influx of Cuban ballplayers, Cuba may still have to change its rules to allow scouts into the country, he said.

The new measures come days before President Obama departs for Havana for a historic two-day mission to improve economic ties with the communist nation, even while he also plans to meet with dissidents in an effort to push the regime toward democracy.

It's the fifth round of new rules the Obama administration has announced since opening up diplomatic relations with Cuba in 2014, allowing educational visits and, later this year, direct commercial flights. But the current travel regulations require that educational trips be sponsored by an educational organization.

Under the rules that go into effect Wednesday, educational trips can now be person-to-person — allowing, for example, more efforts to build democratic institutions in Cuba. The traveler would be required to keep records of the full-time educational activities for five years.

"This is something that we will monitor," said Andrea Gacki of the Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control. "We do have confidence that individuals will be able to come up with ways to engage with the Cuban people in ways that are more affordable and less expensive than having to work through a formal program."

Existing regulations also allow for family family visits, government business, journalistic activity, professional research, religious celebrations, public performances and exhibitions. But tourism is still prohibited under the embargo, creating a system of exceptions .

The regulations add to a growing system of increasingly exceptions to the Cuban embargo, which is set by law and can only be lifted by Congress.

"The fact is, we found ways consistent with the law to open up space for further travel and commercial engagement, in part because we were also able to demonstrate ways that it benefits the Cuban people," Rhodes said. "But at a certain point, the embargo is an impediment to the very engagement that has a change of improving the quality of life for the Cuban people."

Rhodes said the new steps aren't contingent on any reciprocal action by Cuba. "These are important changes, and they will, we believe, advance our own national interests," he said.

Other steps announced by the Treasury, Commerce and State Departments Tuesday include a relaxation of restrictions on shipping to Cuba, imports of Cuban software, and consumption of Cuban goods by Americans while in third countries.

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Overwhelming UN vote says US blockade of Cuba needs to end

The UN General Assembly has voted 191-2 to condemn the US blockade of Cuba, with only the US and Israel opposed. 

Washington voted against the resolution despite the recent renewal of diplomatic ties with Cuba and the push by President Barack Obama to lift the embargo first introduced a year before he was born. 

The draft resolution urges all member states to “refrain from promulgating and applying laws and measures” that furthering the blockade, and those that have such laws to “repeal or invalidate them as soon as possible.” It specifically cites the 1996 Helms-Burton Act as one such law, which affects the sovereignty of other states and legitimate interests of their citizens, as well as the freedom of trade and navigation. Helms-Burton penalizes foreign companies for doing business with Cuba. 

Of the 193 member states at the General Assembly, 191 voted in support of the resolution, titled “Necessity of ending the economic, commercial and financial embargo imposed by the United States of America against Cuba.”  

Washington imposed the blockade in 1960, after Cuban revolutionaries led by Fidel Castro overthrew the regime of Fulgencio Batista, a US-backed dictator. It has been in place for over 55 years.  

“The time has come to put an end to this unilateral embargo," said the Paraguayan representative, speaking on behalf of Mercosur, and a free trade block of seven South American nations.  

“The continuation of the embargo is unjustifiable, and counters Cuba’s effort to achieve sustainable development,” said the Iranian representative, speaking on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement. 

President Obama announced in December 2014 that he would be changing the US policy on Cuba, arguing that the blockade had not produced the desired effect. In May 2015, the US removed Cuba from the list of countries accused of sponsoring terrorism. The Cuban embassy in Washington reopened in July, and the US embassy in Havana followed suit in August.   

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Trump has it right about Carly Fiorina

Trump did get something right, though: my criticism of Carly Fiorina’s disastrous term as CEO of Hewlett-Packard.

As a professor, hearing my name once, let alone twice, before 25 million TV viewers in an historic U.S. presidential debate is a surreal experience. “The head of the Yale business school, Jeffrey Sonnenfeld, wrote a paper recently,” Donald Trump proclaimed in his attack on Carly Fiorina’s business record, “one of the worst tenures for a CEO that he has ever seen.” Immediately, the phones started ringing, text messages dinging, emails beeping—notes from thrilled old students, proud colleagues, teasing friends, pleased former teachers, curious clients, and my own immediate family in shared, flushed, utter shock. So used to being identified before large audiences as Jerry Seinfeld, I’ll admit that I was surprised to hear my name pronounced correctly. But it was a bit traumatic to hear my professional title, professor and senior associate dean, blurred a bit too closely with that of my widely admired boss, who is the actual dean of the Yale School of Management. Last week on CBS’s “Face the Nation,” Trump identified me as dean of the Yale Law School. When he makes me dean of the medical school, it will be very sad my mom is no longer around to share the joy. (Importantly, my perspective is my own, independent of any Yale affiliation.).

As Fiorina admits, I have been critical of her for over a decade—long before she announced her political aspirations. I have studied her business record, challenged her leadership abilities and have come to agree with the assessment that she was one of the worst technology CEOs in history. I stand by that evaluation.

Fiorina can attack me all she wants, as she did when she called me “a well-known Clintonite” (an absurd allegation I’ll get to later) who “had it out for me from the moment that I arrived at Hewlett-Packard.” But no amount of one-liners to Trump, weekend study of Middle Eastern names or ad hominen attacks on a university professor can take someone from gross business leadership failure to leader of the free world. To do that, she’ll have to own up to her missteps and try to learn from them—which she seems disinclined to do.

Here are the facts: In the five years that Fiorina was at Hewlett-Packard, the company lost over half its value. It’s true that many tech companies had trouble during this period of the Internet bubble collapse, some falling in value as much as 27 percent; but HP under Fiorina fell 55 percent. During those years, stocks in companies like Apple and Dell rose. Google went public, and Facebook was launched. The S&P 500 yardstick on major U.S. firms showed only a 7 percent drop. Plenty good was happening in U.S. industry and in technology.

It was Fiorina’s failed leadership that brought her company down. After an unsuccessful attempt to catch up to IBM’s growth in IT services by buying PricewaterhouseCooper’s consulting business (PwC, ironically, ended up going to IBM instead), she abruptly abandoned the strategic goal of expanding IT services and consulting and moved into heavy metal. At a time that devices had become a low margin commodity business, Fiorina bought for $25 billion the dying Compaq computer company, which was composed of other failed businesses. Unsurprisingly, the Compaq deal never generated the profits Fiorina hoped for, and HP’s stock price fell by half. The only stock pop under Fiorina’s reign was the 7 percent jump the moment she was fired following a unanimous board vote. After the firing, HP shuttered or sold virtually all Fiorina had bought.

During the debate, Fiorina countered that she wasn’t a failure because she doubled revenues. That’s an empty measurement. What good is doubling revenue by acquiring a huge company if you’re not making any profit from it? The goals of business are to raise profits, increase employment and add value. During Fiorina’s tenure, thanks to the Compaq deal, profits fell, employees were laid off and value plummeted. Fiorina was paid over $100 million for this accomplishment.

At the time, most industry analysts, HP shareholders, HP employees and even some HP board members resisted the Compaq deal. (Fiorina prevailed in the proxy battle, with 51.4 percent, partly thanks to ethically questionable tactics, but that’s another story.) But rather than listen to the concerns of her opponents, she ridiculed them, equating dissent with disloyalty. As we saw during the debate when she attacked me, rather than listen to or learn from critics, Fiorina disparages them. She did so regularly to platoons of her own top lieutenants and even her board of directors—until they fired her.

These facts have been documented, both with quotes from her own board members and leadership team and with raw numbers in such revered publications as Forbes, Fortune, Business Week, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and leading tech industry journals. I also have extensive first-hand knowledge of this situation, having spoken at length with two of Fiorina’s successors, past and present HP board members, fellow CEOs and scores of HP employees—including many of her own top lieutenants who contacted me directly, such as her head of employee relations.

And I have to point out the obvious: If the board was wrong, the employees wrong, and the shareholders wrong—as Fiorina maintains—why in 10 years has she never been offered another public company to run?

Now, Fiorina wants to run the country. I am a firm believer in second chances. Just because Fiorina failed at an early career does not preclude her from becoming a good leader later. But I do know, having written a book on how great leaders rebound after career disasters, that to overcome failure is to admit to it and learn from it. During the debate, instead of addressing the facts and taking on my professional observations, Fiorina decided to shoot the messenger. What she failed to see is that this behavior—sidestepping accountability by resorting to demagoguery and deflection—is exactly why she failed as a leader the last time.

Fiorina is clever and articulate, but during events like last week’s debate, it’s clear that she seems to have learned very little from her reign as a tech chief. On the campaign trail as in business, she still displays four key leadership flaws:

1. She refuses to learn from failure. Properly mastered, failure is a badge of honor for heroic leadership. People like Steve Jobs, Martha Stewart, Vanguard founder Jack Bogle, Anne Mulcahy of Xerox and Ellen Kullman of DuPont have all faced crushing adversity and rebounded from it. Walt Disney, Henry Ford and four U.S. presidents—Abraham Lincoln, Ulysses S. Grant, Thomas Jefferson and William McKinley—all suffered bankruptcies. The difference between these people and Fiorina is that they all acknowledged their failures and learned from them, providing us with inspiring models of resilience. Fiorina thinks she can sweep obvious public facts of failure under the carpet. But what she doesn’t see is that talking about failure makes you stronger; hiding it makes you weaker. Fiorina’s denials inspire no one.

2. She plays fast and loose with highly misleading metrics, changing the goal posts by manipulating peer comparisons. Fiorina brags that she doubled revenues—but she cut value in half. She talks about doubling employment at HP when all she did was combine the employment of two huge firms—and then lay off 30,000 employees. She presents her story as rags to riches saga, from secretary to CEO, when in fact she is the daughter of a Duke University Law School dean and a federal Appeals Court judge. She just worked for a few months as a receptionist after dropping out of UCLA law school.

3. She makes irresponsible decisions. At HP, Fiorina abruptly pivoted from a strategy of chasing IT services to a splashier, but less sound strategy of ramping up in device manufacturing. While her predecessor, revered HP CEO Lew Platt, traveled coach in commercial planes, she demanded the company buy her a Gulfstream IV. More recently, her service on the Taiwan Semiconductor board indicates continued irresponsibility. Financial disclosures at the time Fiorina left the board in 2009 show that she attended just 17 percent of the company’s board meetings.

4. She is intolerant of dissent and resorts to personal attacks. Rather than address the points made by her critics—she elects to attack their character with false information, shifting the spotlight away from her. And, as much as she laid into Trump for his comments about her face, she has been known to be a queen of personal invective—even when it comes to physical appearance. She once ridiculed the music interests and appearance of a dissenting board member Walter Hewitt, son of HP’s co-founder—as well as the allegedly dowdy look of rival Senate candidate Barbara Boxer.

Now, as for Fiorina’s specific charge that I am a close adviser of the Clintons, a charge she repeated about me by name on NBC’s “Meet the Press” recently, that is false. I am a leadership scholar and impartial in my leadership reviews. I vote for the person, not the party. I have had private meetings with four current Republican presidential candidates for private exchanges of ideas—at their request—pro bono, two of them in just the past 10 days.

I have never been part of any Clinton advisory group. I have personally known four U.S. presidents across parties—including Bill Clinton and the Bushes—and been the houseguest of President George H.W. Bush and Barbara on several occasions for small private non-political events. I have given unsolicited opinions to Bill Clinton while taking long runs with him, which we both needed. Once in 1994, I suggested to Clinton that he host regional economic summits, and he did so. I have known the Clintons as fellow participants in large recreational, non-political, intellectual/spiritual retreats where my fellow guests included prominent Republicans such as Reagan speechwriter Peggy Noonan and Forbes publisher Rich Karlgaard.

My own CEO programs, including one just last week, hosted such Republican political titans and patriots as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Sen. John McCain, former Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao, former Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte, political strategist Ralph Reed and taxpayer advocate Grover Norquist.

If the Republican Party seeks great women leaders with proven track records of accomplishment and character for national office, I could recommend many, including New Hampshire’s Sen. Kelly Ayotte, Alaska’s Sen. Lisa Murkowski and, especially, South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley. But Fiorina is not one of them. Her unacknowledged record of failure and intolerant, no-dissent “my way or the highway” leadership style might better fit high office in China or Russia—or on “The Apprentice” for that matter.

I love a good comeback. I’ve devoted my professional life to showing that comebacks and second acts can be positive and successful. But I also know that they must be earned. In order to overcome her business past, Fiorina must acknowledge her setbacks and show the American people what she has learned. She needs to display contrition—and earn redemption.


This Article has been reprinted by Unimundo with the approval of the Author and Politico.

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Cubans pay the price for Obama’s ‘engagement’ with the Castro’s

On July 1, President Obama announced the formal resumption of diplomatic relations with Cuba, asserting confidently that “American engagement . . . is the best way to advance our interests and support for democracy and human rights.”

On July 5, the Communist regime in Havana delivered its customary response. It arrested more than 80 democratic dissidents, including at least 60 members of Ladies in White, a peaceful group of brave women who march weekly in support of husbands, fathers, and other relatives imprisoned in the Castro’s’ jails. Many of those detained were hurt, some severely. One prominent human rights activist, Antonio Rodiles, was sent to the hospital with a shattered nose; he had reportedly been handcuffed by security forces, then beaten for shouting “Long live freedom” and “Long live human rights.”

There had been even more arrests and beatings in the days leading up to Obama’s Rose Garden statement. Some 225 Cuban dissidents across the island were arrested the previous Sunday, with Ladies in White again prominent among those targeted. In fact, there have been police actions against Cuban democrats for 12 Sundays in a row — the government makes a point of going after dissidents as they walk to Mass or emerge from church holding photos of imprisoned loved ones.

Like most US advocates of normalizing relations with the only all-out dictatorship in the Western Hemisphere, Obama claims that warming up to the Castro regime is the most effective way to promote freedom and liberal reform in Cuba. When he announced last December that ties between Havana and Washington were going to be restored, the president declared that “we can do more to support the Cuban people and promote our values through engagement.” Now, nearly seven months later, he reiterates “America’s enduring support for universal values, like freedom of speech and assembly,” and he insists that his administration “will not hesitate to speak out when we see actions that contradict those values.”

No? Over the past seven months, life for Cuba’s people has grown even unfree. Yet far from forthrightly condemning the repression, Obama serenely counsels patience: “Nobody expects Cuba to be transformed overnight,” he says.

There have been more than 3,000 political detentions on the island since last December, according to The Washington Post. The paper quotes Mario Felix Lleonart, a Cuban Baptist pastor who laments that he, like many, “had hoped, following the announcement about normalizing relations between the US and Cuba, that there would be a stop to — or at least a lessening of — the beatings” of dissidents. “We now know that what is happening is precisely the opposite.”

The policy that Obama now embraces is also “precisely the opposite” of the one he feigned to uphold as a candidate for president.

Once upon a time, Obama maintained that there would be no American embassy in Havana until all of Cuba’s political prisoners were free. Now he trumpets John Kerry’s forthcoming trip to Havana “to proudly raise the American flag over our embassy once more,” even as Cuba continues to lock up men and women for daring to seek the democratic liberties Americans take for granted.

The Obama administration is bestowing tremendous gifts on Cuba’s rulers: diplomatic legitimation, a public-relations triumph, an influx of hard currency, and expanded influence in Washington. All this the Castro’s are getting in exchange for nothing: no elections, no free press, and no end to beating peaceful protesters, no justice for the many victims of Cuban totalitarianism.

“Castroism has won,” mourned the Cuban dissident Yoani Sánchez last winter, when Obama announced an end to America’s principled policy on Cuba. If it wasn’t obvious then; it is now.

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What Comes Next In Cuba?

While Fidel Castro used to deliver his marathon seven-hour speeches in Havana, Cubans used to joke that if Spanish lacked a future tense their leader would be speechless. He was only fluent in broken promises, they lamented. It's been almost a decade since Fidel stepped down from power and now, as Cuba transitions from a turbulent past into an unknown future. He turns 89 this August and is rarely seen in public.

"What comes next?" is the constant question I'm asked by outsiders eager to travel to the island. During the eleven years I traveled to Havana, very few Cubans I met on the island ever bothered to verbalize this question. Many of those I met have already left or remain behind desperately trying to leave. Over the decades of fleeing or staying, every family has been split by Fidel Castro and revolution's legacy.

"A revolution is a struggle to the death between the future and the past," Fidel Castro once said. His brother, Raul Castro, was handed the reins of power nearly a decade ago and has announced plans for his successor in the coming years. Finally, someone not named Castro will, after six decades and a dozen presidents, be steering the ship. But where do the Cuban people stand between their troubled history and mysterious future? Perhaps the canary in the coalmine has always been Cuba's athletes, presented with the same choice all Cubans face to remain or flee, only with infinitely more money on the table to leave. Cuban athletes step aboard smugglers' boats hoping to shipwreck into the American Dream. They are the most expensive human cargo on earth.

On November 19, 1962, despite producing some of the best athletes in the world, Fidel Castro banned professional sports on his island. Castro drew a line in the sand: remain in Cuba and fight for the revolution or defect, and betray your country for the riches that awaiting 90 miles off Cuban shores. For five years not one boxer left. Then, in 1967, Enrico Blanco, only 15-years-old, defected in Winnipeg, Canada shortly after winning gold at the Pan American Games.

Over the decades, more boxers risked losing everything to defect, including their lives. Some crossed minefields to get to Guantanamo Bay, others risked the shark-infested waters of the Florida Straits. Soon a perversely thriving human trafficking operation developed in Mexico by mafia cartels to assist men, women, and children -- as well as athletes -- to escape Cuba as human commodities in a coldblooded vulture black market. Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Steve Fainaru described it to me as "venture humanitarianism".

During the worst of Cuba's "Special Period," nearly 30 years after Cuba's first boxing defection, Joel Casamayor, in the lead-up to the Atlanta Olympic Games in 1996, became the first Cuban Olympic champion to defect. The trickle of athletic defections up to that point turned into a flood 10 years later, with Olympic champions Odlanier Solis and Yuriorkis Gamboa escaping in Venezuela, along with their national teammate Yan Barthelemy. In 2007, during the Pan Am games, Guillermo Rigondeaux, the captain of the Cuban team and a two-time Olympic champion, was arrested in Brazil along with his teammate Erislandy Lara, attempting to defect. Rigondeaux was paraded by Castro personally as pariah and Judas to his people and finally managed to escape his confines in February 2009, abandoning a wife and two children.

Since the revolution began in Cuba, the overwhelming majority of athletes have remained, with only about 1 percent having made the harrowing decision to defect. Many of the greatest Cuban boxing champions since the revolution triumphed on the island resisted the temptation to leave Cuba and, in some cases, defied any suggestion they were tempted in the first place. Most famously, Teofilo Stevenson, rejected multi-million dollar offers to leave his island to fight Muhammad Ali. Stevenson instead asked of the offer, "What is a million dollars compared to the love of 8 million Cubans?"

His successor, Felix Savon, who won his first of three Olympic gold medals in Barcelona in 1992, turned down considerably higher offers -- perhaps in the neighborhood of $20-$25 million -- from boxing promoters Bob Arum and Don King, to fight Mike Tyson. I've interviewed both men at their homes in Havana long after their celebrated fighting careers were over. Both laughed at the idea of abandoning their country for all the riches in the world. However, both were only willing to talk with me provided I pay them a fee under the table which it was well understood they weren't sharing with the government they claimed to adore. In the last few years, the celebrated Cuban sport machine has seen more defections than at any time since the Castro brothers took power. Several of Cuba's youthful champions of tomorrow told me off the record that given any opportunity, if there aren't significant changes, they will seek their fortunes in America.

Nearly 20,000 Cuban boxers are currently employed by the state on the island, the vast majority making less than $20 a month. That being said, these athletes, like other Cubans, pay no rent for their homes, they require no money for medical costs from cradle to grave, and education across the island is free.

The media seldom highlights these facts. It costs nothing to watch any sporting event in the country or to enjoy any cultural event with your family or friends. The low-wages always take center stage when foreign reporters illuminate the plight of Cuban athletes, but these other factors are the context and perspective that many Cuban athletes readily celebrate on the island. They're proud of a society that values such things. They remember, from countless stories told by their parents and relatives, how bad life was before, especially for Afro-Cubans. Four out of five revolutionaries who arrived in Havana to oust the U.S.-backed dictatorship of Batista were illiterate. Now Cuba boasts one of the highest literacy rates on earth. Moreover, many are afraid what happens in America, living under the American system, if their athletic career fizzles.

One $64,000 question, now that President Obama has taken the radical measure of normalizing relations with Raul Castro and Cuba, is what happens next for over a billion dollars' worth of human capital currently on baseball fields and inside boxing rings in Cuba? Most of these athletes earn less than $20 a month and are well aware of their market value anywhere but where they were born. With an ever-growing human smuggling operation perilously sending Cuban boxers and baseball players to the professional ranks via Mexico, Cuban athletes, insidiously, can only escape dictatorship in Cuba as human cargo, bought and sold over shark-infested waters.

Policies on both sides of the 90 miles separating Cuba and the United States have only encouraged Mexican cartels to diversify their drug portfolios to include human smuggling. Over 10,000 Cubans, men, women, and children washed ashore in Mexico last year at an estimated minimum fee of $10,000 per person.

Last year, I visited some of the hotels where they were held prisoner on Isla Mujeres, just off the coast of Cancun. Many were held hostage at machete or gunpoint until a ransom masquerading as a fee was secured by the smugglers. Once that money is paid to buy and sell human beings off the island, how indebted the human cargo is to their financiers remains a murky, enormously troubling feature of this malevolent trade.

Where the "Bay of Pigs" invasion failed, undoubtedly the tourist invasion will succeed in forever changing the landscape of island. What comes next in Cuba? The answer is that many Cubans aren't waiting around to find out. The question itself betrays a luxurious viewpoint the vast majority of Cubans living on the island cannot afford to dream of.

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