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Cuba remembers Ernest Hemingway with a Washington bar

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By Kate Dailey
BBC News Magazine

Tucked inside the Swiss Embassy, the cocktail area celebrates the writer who made his home in CubaCuban and American politicians have celebrated together at the opening of Hemingway’s, an invitation-only bar located in a Washington, DC embassy.

It started like a typical Washington DC function. Men and women in dark suits milled around a formal room in the Swiss Embassy, crystal chandeliers sparkling overhead. Waiters carried around glasses of red and white wine while guests made polite small-talk.

But after a series of speeches, guests were led to the back of the room, and into an entirely different experience.

They had entered Hemingway’s, a bar celebrating the American writer who made his home in Cuba. There, the floors were covered in terracotta tile, while wooden fans whirred above. Bartenders poured cocktails under a brass replica of Hemingway’s signature.

Aside from the fact that it serves liquor, Hemingway’s isn’t a bar in the traditional sense. Tucked inside the embassy, where the Cuban Interests Section resides, the bar has a strict invitation-only list.

It will be used for entertaining guests of the Interest Section, so tourists hoping to catch happy hour are out of luck.

Bartenders fix drinks under an Ernest Hemingway sign

The bar’s brass sign replicates Hemingway’s signature

It’s illegal for the bar to conduct any commerce, but the embassy is free from the trade embargo that forbids importing products from the communist country. So drinks were on the house, made with Cuban rum that’s normally impossible to find in the US.

Terry McAullife, the former head of the Democratic National Committee, ordered the first drink – Havana Club Rum, straight.

Mr McAullife, who travelled to Cuba last year as part of a trade mission, thinks that doing more business with Cuba could be a key to creating American jobs.

“It’s a huge market, and every other country in the world is already there,” he says. “And Cubans love American products.”

From Versailles to Havana

But the opening of the bar wasn’t simply about facilitating Cuban-American commerce.

Instead, the night was more about celebrating Ernest Hemingway, described as a “cultural bridge” by Jennifer Phillips, the grand-daughter of Hemingway’s editor. Ms Phillips is co-founder of the Finca Vigia foundation, devoted to preserving Hemingway’s Cuban home.

She spoke before the opening of the bar, reminding the audience that Hemingway is treasured by both nations.

Cuban diplomat speaks at a podium in front of a photo of Fidel Castro and Ernest Hemingway

The chief of the Cuban Interests Section told of a fishing contest between Castro and Hemingway

Neither the US nor Cuba have official embassies in the other’s country; instead both have Interests Sections located in the Swiss embassies.

Neither group has a history of being particularly friendly towards the host nation, though Cuba-watchers hope that Hemingway’s signals a positive change.

When the Interest Section in DC was due for a renovation, the Cuban diplomats decided to reclaim a bit of the space as their own.

“The room was like the palace of Versailles,” says Juan Leon Lamigueiro, deputy chief of the diplomatic mission. “There was very little Cuban.”

“So we decided to convert the warehouse annex into a bar dedicated to Hemingway.”

While mojitos and Cuba Libras were being poured in the small back room that houses the bar, a 12-piece band played Latin music in the front of the hall.

A mural of Fidel Castro images with the label "History will absolve me"

A mural promoting Fidel Castro displayed prominently at the entrance of the embassy.

Sandra Levinson, resplendent in a sparkling black and blue blouse, spun and twirled with her partner. MS Levinson, executive director of the Center for Cuban Studies in New York City and director of the centre’s Cuban Art Space, learned to dance during her many trips to Cuba, and had travelled down to Washington specifically to attend the opening.

As the crowd subsided, the hosts brought out cigars – the famous commodity that is forbidden in the US.

Reporters, bureaucrats, and Cuban emigrants happily puffed away – but more than one skittish politico declined to have their pictures taken enjoying Cuban contraband.

“You can write this,” one conceded. “An anonymous Hill staffer said the mojitos were fantastic.”

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Drill, Castro, drill

Obama and environmental friends help Cuba tap oil off Florida

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By Humberto Fontova
The Washington Times

In half a heartbeat, the Obama team could put the kibosh on the most dangerous offshore oil drilling ever proposed near U.S. shores, scheduled to begin in December. By fighting this drilling operation, President Obama’s environmentalist allies could get the biggest bang for their lobbying buck in their history.

But all bets are off. This drilling, you see, won’t be done by villainous U.S. oil companies. Instead, a Spanish-Cuban oil company will be drilling in Cuban waters 60 miles from Key West. U.S. companies are banned from exploring anywhere within 125 miles of the Florida coast.

But none of the usual histrionics and fist-shaking from environmentalist quarters against “rapists of Mother Earth,” “despoilers of our coasts and oceans” and “obscene profiteers” have manifested against Fidel Castro’s business partners – none whatsoever. Instead, as a contingency against any drilling mishaps, the above parties already have found a way to blame – you guessed it – Republicans. More specifically, fault already has been affixed to the most lopsidedly Republican voters in U.S. history, Americans of Cuban heritage, who supposedly single-handedly maintain the embargo against Cuba and thus would prevent any cooperation with Cubans in case of a spill.

“We’re shooting ourselves in the foot by not working together,” groused Environmental Defense Fund attorney Dan Whittle after returning absolutely enchanted from a recent meeting with members of Cuba’s Stalinist nomenklatura. “They’re taking the lessons of the BP spill very seriously. They could have easily distanced themselves from what happened and said theirs is a different situation from BP and said ‘thanks very much.’ The very opposite happened.”

Why, those fine folks down in Cuba just couldn’t have been more kind, helpful and accommodating. Us blockheaded Yankee bullies? Hopeless.

A team headed by the chairman of Mr. Obama’s BP spill task force, William Reilly, and Mr. Whittle just visited Cuba to assist that country with its drilling plans. But when the George W. Bush administration planned to open areas off Florida to U.S. oil companies, this same Environmental Defense Fund went ballistic:

Offshore drilling poses an unacceptable level of risk to two of Florida’s most important economic sectors. Opening a new 1.5 million acre swath of the Eastern Gulf to oil drilling unnecessarily threatens marine life with pollution and puts Florida beaches at a much greater risk for spills. Given the environmental risks … this seems like an ill-considered move by the Bush administration. Opening more of the Gulf to drilling now makes little environmental, economic or political sense.”

The drilling rig on its way to a site 60 miles from Florida’s coast is Chinese-built, Italian-owned and Spanish-leased. Its purpose is to enrich Cuba’s Stalinist nomenklatura, enabling them to better sponsor terrorism and torture people. If only the Obama-environmental alliance team could muster the same contempt for this alliance that it has for Texans.

Texas-based Seahawk Drilling, for instance, among the biggest drillers in the Gulf, filed for bankruptcy in February. The company was battered and finally killed off by “the slowdown in the issuing of shallow-water [drilling] permits in the U.S. Gulf of Mexico following the Macondo well blowout,” read its press release.

Louisiana’s Democratic Sen. Mary L. Landrieu blamed “the administration’s excruciatingly slow release of oil and gas permits. … How many more rigs have to leave and how many more businesses have to close before it realizes the havoc the de facto moratorium is [wreaking] on the Gulf Coast?” The Energy Information Agency thinks more than 59 billion barrels of recoverable oil reside in U.S. offshore waters. But given environmental legislation, U.S. drillers are forbidden from going anywhere near this treasure trove.

As it happens, the Spanish-based oil company Repsol, which partners with the Castro regime, holds leases on U.S. territory. U.S. laws enforcing the embargo of Cuba call for penalties against such accessories to theft but have been meticulously and relentlessly overlooked.

To wit: In July 1960, Castro’s KGB-trained security forces stormed into 5,911 U.S.-owned businesses in Cuba and stole them all at Soviet gunpoint – a $2 billion heist from outraged U.S. business owners and stockholders. Not all Americans surrendered their legal and hard-earned property peacefully. Among some who resisted were Bobby Fuller, whose family farm would become a Soviet-style collective, and Howard Anderson, whose profitable Jeep dealership was coveted by Castro’s henchmen. Both U.S. citizens were murdered by Castro and Che Guevara’s firing squads.

Many of the Canadian, European and Chinese companies partnering with Castro occupy and operate those stolen properties and assets.For the most part, these foreign corporations blow their noses on U.S. laws.

But last week a letter drafted by the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, signed by a bipartisan group of 34 House members and addressed to Repsol’s president, hints at the tight grip Americans hold on the Spanish corporation – and could tighten on a whim:

“Dear Mr. Antonio Brufau Niubo:

Repsol’s partnership with the Cuban regime could violate U.S. law, and may run afoul of pending legislation in the U.S. Congress. … As to current law, Repsol may be in jeopardy of subjecting itself and its affiliates to criminal and civil liability in U.S. courts. Violations of the Trading with the Enemy Act, the Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity Act, the Alien Tort Claims Act, and the Trade Sanctions Reform and Enforcement Act can lead to serious ramifications for individuals or businesses that deal with the Cuban regime.”

It’s a long shot, but there’s a chance the Obama team will see fit to bring the hammer down on a state sponsor of terrorism that helped the Soviets threaten us with nuclear weapons, stole billions from U.S. citizens and most seriously threatens Florida’s beaches. That would be a refreshing change from the team’s practice of acting against domestic oil companies that fuel our economy and employ millions of our fellow citizens.

Original Article

Drill, Bebé, Drill

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Cuba is about to drill for offshore oil with “second-tier parts” because of the trade embargo. That’s not good news for U.S. beaches.

Sometime over the next three months, if all goes according to plan, Cuban workers on a Chinese-built, Spanish-owned rig will start drilling for oil in the mile-deep waters just off the north coast of Cuba, 70 miles from the Florida Keys.

If the drill hits a major oil deposit—and all geologic signs indicate it will—the discovery will unleash a cascade of developments with profound political, environmental, and economic consequences.

The Cuban government has long wanted to extract the rich reserves of oil and natural gas believed to lie off its shores. Estimates for oil range from 5 billion to 20 billion barrels, while the estimate for natural gas is 8.6 billion cubic feet. Unlocking that oil could jump-start a nascent Cuban offshore-oil industry—and free the island nation from its energy and political dependence on Venezuela, from which it imports 60 percent of its oil today. A newfound independence from its socialist neighbor and its mercurial president, Hugo Chavez—coming at a time when the Cuban leadership is facing change with the eventual demise of Fidel Castro—is an appealing prospect to the United States.

But the potential of a closer relationship with Cuba comes with a terrifying specter: An oil blowout in Cuban waters could reprise the nightmare that was last year’s Gulf of Mexico oil spill, and send crude spewing to the beaches of Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina. And the likelihood for such a disaster is very real, say oil industry experts, thanks in part to Washington’s 49-year-old embargo on Cuba.

Because of the embargo, U.S. companies cannot drill in Cuba, supply equipment to Cuba, have any say over safety regulations in Cuba, or even take part in helping control a blowout and spill in Cuba. As the island prepares to begin offshore drilling, it has signed contracts with oil companies from Brazil, India, Italy, Russia, and Spain—and is in talks to lease major portions of its coastal water to Chinese companies (continuing China’s pattern of pursuing oil exploration in countries where U.S. drillers aren’t welcome).

Under the embargo’s terms, the oil drilling and safety equipment used by those companies must be less than 10 percent U.S.-made. But all of the most technologically advanced equipment for drilling and preventing or stopping oil spills is made in the United States or by U.S. companies.

“There are not international suppliers of this level of equipment. They will have to buy copycat or second-tier parts,” Lee Hunter, president of the Houston-based International Association of Drilling Contractors, told National Journal. Hunter and other experts say that, to date, it appears that the Cuban government, fearful of the devastation an oil spill could wreak on its economy, wants to use the lessons learned from the BP oil disaster to develop a rigorous safety and oversight program. But it will be nearly impossible for drillers in Cuba’s waters to legally use the safest equipment. “The Cubans want to use good technology; they want to drill safely,” Hunter said. “But … their ability to drill safely is extremely compromised.”

Also deeply compromised is their ability to respond to a disaster should it occur. Even if oil from a Cuban spill laps at Florida’s shores, the U.S. agencies and oil companies that have all-too-hard-won expertise in wrestling a spill—the Coast Guard, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and the Interior Department—would be banned from crossing into Cuban waters to help. And experts say that the Cuban oil industry and government don’t yet have a fraction of the resources and expertise they would need to deal with such an event on their own.

State Department officials are well aware of the problem, and they are working with Hunter’s group, along with others, to find a way for U.S. companies to get into Cuban waters—if not to drill, at least to help out in case of a spill. One way this could happen is if the Treasury Department issues special advance licenses granting U.S. companies the ability to travel to Cuban waters to give aid in a disaster. Cuban officials are also cautiously indicating interest in cooperating with the U.S. on the plan, despite the embargo.

“This is something that could get Cuba and the U.S. sitting down and talking, finding points of agreement and cooperation,” said Jorge Piñón, a former president of Amoco Oil Latin America and a current visiting research fellow with Florida International University’s Cuban Research Institute.

It is also something that is likely to further ignite the fight over opening up more U.S. waters for drilling, pointed out Piñón and many others. Currently, most of the eastern portion of the U.S. Gulf of Mexico—which borders the water where the Chinese, Indians, and Russians would be operating off Cuba—is closed to drilling. But defenders of the U.S. drilling ban will be hard-pressed to keep it in place, no matter the risks, if two things happen: if oil-producing rigs pop up in Cuban waters, and, in the coming years, in the surrounding waters of Mexico and even the Bahamas, which is now looking into starting offshore drilling.

Original Article

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