January 3rd, 2012
02:29 AM ET

Rights group: Cuban prisoner dies during hunger strike

A Cuban prisoner who went on a hunger strike because he was not part of the government's recent mass pardon has died, a human rights leader said Tuesday.

The prisoner, Rene Cobas, died Sunday of a heart attack, after authorities at the Boniato Prison, near Santiago, disregarded a doctor's recommendation that he be moved to a provincial hospital, said Elizardo Sanchez.

Sanchez, who heads island's independent Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation, said his group plans to investigate whether the military authorities at the prison were criminally negligent in their inaction.

Cobas had gone on strike immediately after President Raul Castro announced the latest round of amnesty on December 23. Cobas called the pardons "exclusive and limited," Sanchez said.

The decision to release 2,900 prisoners followed "numerous requests" from their family members and religious institutions, and was a humanitarian gesture, Castro said last month.

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Filed under: Cuba • World
December 23rd, 2011
09:32 PM ET

Cuba to release 2,900 prisoners

Cuba will pardon more than 2,900 prisoners, the government said Friday in an official statement published on the state-run website Cubadebate.

The decision follows "numerous requests" from prisoners' family members and religious institutions, and is a humanitarian gesture, the statement read.

Among those who might be freed are prisoners over the age of 60, and those who are sick, female or young with no previous criminal record.

It was not immediately clear whether Alan Gross, a jailed American, would be among those pardoned.

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Filed under: Cuba
December 14th, 2011
11:41 AM ET

Alleged cyberplot points to Venezuela, Iran, documentary says

It's the type of plot that defense hawks in the United States warn about: a potential cyberattack against the U.S. government orchestrated by none other than Venezuela, Iran and Cuba, with the help of a group of Mexican leftists.

The U.S.-based Spanish-language network Univision recently aired an investigative documentary alleging that Venezuelan and Iranian diplomats were interested in an offer from a group of Mexican hackers to infiltrate the websites of the White House, FBI, Pentagon and U.S. nuclear sites.

But the hackers were university students recruited to do the dirty work who decided instead to document the evidence to disrupt the plot, the documentary reported.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has called the report "lies." And one of the Iranian diplomats told Univision he indeed was presented with a hacking plot by the Mexican group but turned it down in part because he thought they were CIA agents.

The evidence that the plot was real, according to Univision, are secret recordings with diplomats who ask questions about what the hackers can do and promise to send information to their governments.

The United States said it did not know about the alleged plot but that it found the Univision allegations "very disturbing."

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Filed under: Cuba • Iran • Venezuela
November 3rd, 2011
01:14 PM ET

Cubans allowed to sell real estate

In a move that could reshape the Cuban economy, the government on Thursday announced a new law that allows for the sale of real estate, a transaction that had been banned since the 1959 Cuban Revolution.

The National Assembly in August approved a plan to permit the sale of real estate, and the legislation itself officially was put on the books Wednesday. It goes into effect November 10, the state-run newspaper Granma reported.

The new law allows for the sale, exchange, donation and gifting of real estate even in cases of divorce, death, or the owner leaving the country permanently.

As stated, the goal of the law is to "eliminate prohibitions and make limitations (to property ownership) flexible."

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Cuban leader criticizes Obama U.N. speech
September 26th, 2011
10:25 AM ET

Cuban leader criticizes Obama U.N. speech

Former Cuban leader Fidel Castro ended a long writing hiatus Monday, penning a three-page essay printed in state media slamming U.S. President Barack Obama's speech to the United Nations last week.

"Who understands the gibberish of the President of the United States speaking before the United Nations?" Castro wrote in his so-called "Reflection."

He also accused NATO of "monstrous crimes" in Libya and wrote that in Syria, "Yankee aggression could lead to an even more terrifying massacre than in Libya."

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Filed under: Barack Obama • Cuba • Fidel Castro
A look at other Americans who were jailed abroad
Euna Lee and Lisa Ling were released from prison in North Korea in 2009.
September 21st, 2011
11:56 AM ET

A look at other Americans who were jailed abroad

As word came Wednesday that two American hikers were released from their two-year imprisonment in Iran, CNN looked at some other cases of U.S. citizens jailed in other countries.

Cuba

* December 2009 - Alan Gross was jailed while working in Cuba as a subcontractor on a U.S. Agency for International Development project aimed at spreading democracy. Cuban authorities deemed his actions illegal. He was accused of trying set up illegal Internet connections, but Gross says he was trying to help connect the Jewish community to the Internet and was not a threat to the government. In August 2010, New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, on a trade mission to Cuba, pressed the island nation to free Gross. In March, Gross was found guilty and sentenced to 15 years in prison for crimes against the Cuban state. President Jimmy Carter failed to get Gross freed after visiting Cuba and arguing he should be released because his mother and daughter were battling cancer. This month, Richardson will go back to Cuba on a private mission. Gross is still in prison.

Iran:

* July 2009 - Shane Bauer, Josh Fattal and Sarah Shourd were accused of illegally crossing into Iran while hiking in Iraqi Kurdistan near its border with Iran. Shourd was released for medical reasons; Bauer and Fattal were convicted last month of entering Iran illegally and spying for the United States. Both were sentenced to eight years in prison but were released on bail on Wednesday.

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Filed under: Cuba • Iran • North Korea
September 15th, 2011
10:39 AM ET

Quakes hit off Cuba, Japan and New Zealand

[Updated at 10:39 a.m. ET] The U.S. Geological Survey has revised downward the magnitude of Thursday morning's earthquake off Cuba to magnitude 5.1 from magnitude 6.0.

[Updated at 5:20 a.m. ET] A magnitude 6.0 earthquake hit off the southeastern coast of Cuba early Thursday, the U.S. Geological Survey reported.

The quake was centered 77 miles north of Montego Bay, Jamaica, and 370 miles southeast of Havana, Cuba. It hit at 4:43 a.m.

Forty-three minutes earlier, a magnitude 6.2 earthquake rumbled off the east coast of Japan, the USGS reported.  No tsunami warning was issued.

Both quakes were shallow, striking at a depth of six miles.

And seven minutes before the Japan quake, a magnitude 6.0 quake was recorded off the coast of New Zealand, according to the USGS.

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Filed under: Cuba • Earthquake • Japan • Natural Disasters • New Zealand
September 7th, 2011
05:12 PM ET

Bill Richardson hopes to negotiate American contractor's release from Cuba

Former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson is going to Cuba to try to negotiate the release of jailed American contractor Alan Gross, CNN has learned.

"We are aware of Gov. Richardson's trip to Cuba and have been in contact with him," State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told CNN. "While Gov. Richardson is traveling as a private citizen, we certainly support his efforts to obtain Alan Gross' release."

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Filed under: Cuba
September 3rd, 2011
04:13 PM ET

Cuban defense minister dies of heart attack, state media reports

Cuba's defense minister died suddenly Saturday from a heart attack, the Caribbean nation's state news service reported.

Julio Casas Regueiro, 75, became head of Cuba's armed forces in February 2008.

A longtime revolutionary, he fought alongside Fidel and Raul Castro in the guerrilla war that brought the two brothers to power in January 1959.

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Filed under: Cuba • Fidel Castro
July 4th, 2011
07:05 PM ET

Chavez back in Venezuela

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez vowed on Monday to conquer cancer and said his "return has begun."

He spoke from the balcony of the presidential palace the same day he arrived unannounced in his nation's capital and one day before the country is set to celebrate its bicentennial.

Chavez, dressed in military fatigues and wearing a red beret, appeared in good spirits. His speech was uncharacteristically short.

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Filed under: Cuba • Venezuela
Fidel Castro calls bin Laden killing an assassination
Fidel Castro criticized the U.S. for killing Osama bin Laden.
May 5th, 2011
02:00 PM ET

Fidel Castro calls bin Laden killing an assassination

Former Cuban President Fidel Castro is slamming the method used to kill Osama bin Laden, saying there is no excuse for "assassinating" an unarmed man in front of his family.

"Whatever the actions attributed to bin Laden, the assassination of an unarmed human being surrounded by his family constitutes an abhorrent act," Castro wrote in an essay published in state media. Castro criticized bin Laden for "international terrorism" and said Cuba showed solidarity with the United States after the "brutal" September 11 attacks. However, in the article Castro calls the killing of bin Laden an "execution" by U.S. Navy SEALs and says the attack and the subsequent burial at sea "show fear and insecurity, and turn him into a much more dangerous person."

The news come on the heels of the sentencing of a Chilean businessman in Cuban court, state news in Cuba reported Thursday. Max Marambio, whose company Rio Zaza made juices and milk, was once a close friend of Castro's. He was sentenced to 20 years in prison after being convicted in absentia of bribery and fraud. FULL STORY

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Filed under: Cuba • Fidel Castro
WikiLeaks roundup: Gitmo only the latest target
Australian Julian Assange directs WikiLeaks, which has released many headline-grabbing classified documents this year.
April 25th, 2011
11:36 AM ET

WikiLeaks roundup: Gitmo only the latest target

WikiLeaks has released close to 800 secret military documents that reveal fascinating insights into al Qaeda and terrorist detainees at Guantanamo Bay prison in Cuba, including close-up photographs of detainees. One document reveals that a detainee threatened guards by saying he would fly airplanes into houses. Another said that Osama bin Laden was, at one point, in good health despite having only one kidney.

American soldier Pfc. Bradley Manning is suspected to have leaked the documents to WikiLeaks. Manning, a 23-year-old from Oklahoma, is being held in Fort Leavenworth Prison in Kansas.

The Guantanamo document dump is only the latest in 2011 from WikiLeaks, which gained international prominence in 2010 when it leaked thousands of papers about the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan. Late last year, WikiLeaks began publishing 251,287 leaked United States Embassy cables dating from 1966 to February 2011. The cables are still being slowly released. The content is so broad, and involves so many countries, there isn't room enough on this blog to adequately describe it. Need a WikiLeaks refresher? Watch this.

A few notable 2011 WikiLeaks revelations:

Tunisia - WikiLeaks released cables alleging the president of Tunisia's corruption and high spending. The documents painted a scathing portrait of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and his relatives by describing them as a "quasi-mafia" that pushed businesses for a slice of any venture they were involved in.

How did the cables fuel the Tunisian revolution?

Syria - In the past few days, Syria has erupted in violence, and witnesses tell CNN that authorities are going door to door shooting people. On April 19, the U.S. State Department denied it was seeking to undermine the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, despite the revelation in diplomatic cables unveiled by WikiLeaks that the U.S. is financing groups seeking to overthrow him.

Libya - Cables related to Libya were credited by some for helping fuel the fighting in the country. A cable described the town of Derna, Libya, as a "wellspring" of Libyan foreign fighters for al Qaeda in Iraq. They also revealed much about Libyan President Moammar Gadhafi's odd personal life, his penchant for hiring celebrities and his love of a good party.

Mexico - The U.S. ambassador to Mexico resigned after a January 2010 WikiLeaks leaked cable described the Mexican army as "slow" and "risk averse" and concluded that only 2% of people arrested in Ciudad Juarez, the most violent city in Mexico, were charged with a crime.

Bahrain - A cable showed the "deep suspicion" that Bahrain has for its Persian Gulf neighbor, Iran.

Iran - WikiLeaks exposed an alleged secret plot to assassinate an Iranian-American dissident.

Egypt - A cable revealed details about Mohammed Hussein Tantawi, Egypt's new deputy prime minister, as more details and images emerged from the country that experienced a historic revolution this year.

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Filed under: Afghanistan • Cuba • Juarez • Julian Assange • Libya • Mexico • Middle East • Syria • Tunisia • WikiLeaks
Friday's intriguing people
Vintage American cars are a common sight in Cuba, but that could change under reforms by Raul Castro.
April 15th, 2011
12:05 PM ET

Friday's intriguing people

Raul Castro

For the first time since 1997, Cuba's Communist Party Congress will meet this weekend, marking the official debut of Fidel Castro's brother as its leader.

As NPR reports, Raul Castro is expected to propose radical reform measures. One, which may launch a real estate boom, will allow Cubans to buy and sell homes.

Also, the party is likely to lift the ban on the sale of automobiles made after 1959.  Such a move could trigger culture shock in a country where hulking American-made sedans from the 1950s are an everyday sight.

"These cars are part of our national identity – like beans, rice and pork," mechanic Jorge Prats told NPR. "We take care of these old American cars as if they were a member of our family."

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On the Radar: Lottery winners, Cuba visit, NCAA brackets
One winning ticket was sold for the $319 million jackpot.
March 28th, 2011
06:39 AM ET

On the Radar: Lottery winners, Cuba visit, NCAA brackets

$319 million lottery ticket: We may find out the identities of the nation's newest millionaires on Monday.

One winning ticket for Friday's $319 million MegaMillions jackpot was sold by Coulson's News Central in Albany, New York, but as of Sunday night the holder or holders of the winning ticket had not come forth.

According to Emanuel Biondi, public employees federation council leader for New York's Housing and Community Renewal Agency, the winning ticket was shared by seven IT workers there, but a New York Lottery spokesperson was unable to confirm that.

If the winners chose the cash option when buying the ticket, they will receive a one-time, lump-sum payment of $202.9 million. That amount reflects all the cash in the Mega Millions pool and is the sixth-largest jackpot in its history, according to Hapeman.

It's also the single largest sole jackpot-winning ticket ever for Mega Millions sold in New York, she said.

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Filed under: Basketball • College basketball • Cuba • On the Radar • Sports • World
March 12th, 2011
03:07 PM ET

U.S. contractor gets 15-year sentence in Cuba for crimes against the state

U.S. contractor Alan P. Gross was sentenced Saturday to 15 years in prison for crimes against the Cuban state, Cuba's state-run news agency reported.

Gross was arrested 14 months ago on accusations of distributing illegal satellite equipment to connect dissidents to the internet as part of efforts to undermine the government. The prosecution had asked for a 20-year sentence.

The United States says Gross was helping the small Jewish community connect to the internet and that he didn't break any laws.

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Gotta Watch: Booze smasher; ice music; from the vault
Surveillance video shows a woman smashing bottles through a liquor store.
March 4th, 2011
11:01 AM ET

Gotta Watch: Booze smasher; ice music; from the vault

Liquor store meltdown – Smashing stuff isn't just for rock stars and two-year-olds. An angry woman acts on her impulse to smash through liquor bottles after a heated conversation with the store clerk. According to the store owners, she was told she couldn't use the store's restroom.

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Filed under: Crime • Cuba • Gotta Watch
Cuba seeks 20 years in jail for American USAID subcontractor
Cuban President Raul Castro accused Alan Gross of distributing illegal satellite communications equipment to dissidents.
February 4th, 2011
05:11 PM ET

Cuba seeks 20 years in jail for American USAID subcontractor

An American USAID subcontractor jailed in Havana over a year ago has been charged with "acts against the independence and integrity" of Cuba and could face up to 20 years in prison, Cuban state media reported on Friday.

The December 2009 arrest of Alan Gross put relations between the United States and Cuba back in the deep freeze despite initial signs of a thaw under President Barack Obama.

At the time, Cuban President Raul Castro said Gross had been distributing illegal satellite communications equipment to dissidents. Other officials referred to him as a spy.

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Filed under: Cuba
U.S. to ease some Cuba travel restrictions
January 14th, 2011
05:03 PM ET

U.S. to ease some Cuba travel restrictions

The United States will loosen restrictions on Cuba, allowing greater leeway for religious and educational trips to the communist island and letting U.S. citizens send up to $500 in remittances every three months to any Cuban who is not connected with the government, a top White House official said Friday.

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Filed under: Cuba • Politics • U.S.
Gotta watch: Zombies; Tiger’s brother; Marching band kick; Conan vs. TSA
December 17th, 2010
12:05 PM ET

Gotta watch: Zombies; Tiger’s brother; Marching band kick; Conan vs. TSA

Cuban film features zombie revolution – Fifty years after Fidel Castro's revolution, a new revolution is brewing. Cuba's first-ever zombie flick, “Juan of the Dead” brings the living dead to the streets of Havana. The plot features communist leaders claiming the living dead are part of a CIA-backed plot aimed at toppling the government. “Juan of the Dead," is Cuba's first zombie movie and is a mix of camp gore and wry satire. CNN’s Shasta Darlington walks with the undead and talks to the movie’s creators.

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Filed under: Cuba • Gotta Watch • Michael Vick • Tiger Woods
November 19th, 2010
09:40 AM ET

On the Radar: Court action, NATO summit, middle class

Derrick Yancey was found guilty of murdering his wife and a day laborer.

Legal action – Friday will be a busy day for court proceedings.

A jury will begin deliberations in the DUI manslaughter trial of former major-league baseball player Jim Leyritz in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

A former Georgia sheriff's deputy convicted of two murders will be sentenced. A jury this month found Derrick Yancey guilty of murdering his wife and a day laborer. Yancey was arrested last year in Belize, where he had fled after escaping house arrest.

Also in Georgia, Senior U.S. District Judge Jack Camp Jr., charged with purchasing illegal drugs and passing them on to a stripper, is expected to plead guilty Friday in federal court in Atlanta. Camp, 67, is accused of buying cocaine, marijuana and prescription painkillers and giving them to an exotic dancer he met last spring.

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Filed under: Air travel • Barack Obama • Belize • Courts • Crime • Cuba • Florida • Georgia • NATO • New York • On the Radar • Portugal • Puerto Rico • Strippers • U.S.
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