Top US diplomat in Cuba on short list for new embassy

By ANITA SNOW – Associated Press – July 02, 2015

HAVANA (AP) — From his office high above Havana, Jeffrey DeLaurentis has a sweeping view of the cerulean Florida Straits and the blood-red letters declaring Cuba’s defiance of the United States.

“Homeland or Death!” reads the sign erected in front of the U.S. Interests Section, a declaration installed 15 years ago when DeLaurentis was a more junior officer working to defuse a standoff over the fate of child rafter Elian Gonzalez.

Now, on this third assignment in communist Cuba, DeLaurentis is the top U.S. diplomat on the island, working to bring an end to more than a half-century of hostilities between the two countries. Known for his low-key style and public discretion, the 61-year-old diplomat also is on a short list for U.S. ambassador to Cuba, if there is to be one.

On Wednesday, DeLaurentis hand-delivered a letter from the White House to the Cuban Foreign Ministry about converting missions known as interest sections in the countries’ respective capitals into full embassies.

Cuba said ceremonies to do that will be held July 20, though the U.S State Department said it does not yet have a date.

Return visit to Communist Cuba finds new hope amid change

By ANITA SNOW – Associated Press – February 18, 2015

HAVANA (AP) – Rolling toward customs with a 60-pound suitcase filled with clothing and electronics for friends, my stomach clenched when a female agent in a light green uniform approached. As a former longtime Cuba correspondent returning after nearly six years, I thought I knew what would come next: a search of my luggage by stoned-faced military men, a scolding, maybe even a fine.

Instead, I got a pass.

“Pasa, mi amor,” the agent said with a smile, directing me to the exit. “Go right on through, my love.”

It was the first sign of the more relaxed and hopeful atmosphere I found during a brief visit back to Havana this month, a feeling that didn’t exist during my 1999-2009 tenure. The differences I saw and felt made me realize how much my decade in Cuba had been characterized by anxiety and isolation, and what a different country it is becoming under President Raul Castro’s modest reforms. Everywhere I traveled around Havana, hopes were high for more change after Cuba and the U.S. announcement on Dec. 17 they would move toward a more normal relationship. Cubans seem especially keen for more visits by Americans.

Castro grip firm as Cuba’s revolution turns 50

By ANITA SNOW – Associated Press – December 20, 2008

HAVANA (AP) _ In the palace of a fallen dictator, the grade-school kids in their red Communist Pioneer bandanas are getting their mandatory introduction to the glories of the revolution.

Clattering from one display case to the next, they gaze wide-eyed at an antique gun, a fighter’s bloodied shirt, the engine of a downed U.S. spy plane. Moving on, they stare at the yacht named Granma that carried Fidel Castro back from exile to launch his guerrilla war, and the combat boots his brother-successor wore as a ponytailed 27-year-old rebel.

The palace of Fulgencio Batista, the ruler whom Castro overthrew, is now the Museum of the Revolution, and these 6- and 7-year-olds are the heirs to a communist government about to turn 50 _ a system that may be softening at the edges but appears determined to crush any threat to its grip on power, lest it crumble like its one-time godfather, the Soviet Union.

Living on ration card isn’t easy, but Cubans use ingenuity and organization to feed families

By ANITA SNOW – Associated Press – July 2, 2007

HAVANA (AP) _ No one on this communist-run island dies from starvation, but every month Cubans on the “universal ration” must use ingenuity and organization skills to ensure everyone gets enough to eat.

For 30 days, I lived on a similar program. I spent less than US$17 (euro12.50) for a month’s sustenance, dropped nine pounds (four kilograms) and learned _ like Cubans _ to budget carefully, plan meals ahead, buy only what was necessary and never throw food away.

Most importantly, I realized that like most Americans, I take food for granted, assuming I’ll always get what I want when I want it.

Cuba’s ration system began in 1962 to guarantee a low-priced basket of basic foods just as the U.S. cut off trade with the island, sparking food shortages. Initially characterized as temporary, the program remained as Cuba struggled to feed its people, turning to the Eastern Bloc for most of its food.

Cuban food project conjures up memories of family, Southern fare

By ANITA SNOW – Associated Press – June 06, 2007

HAVANA (AP) _ The fragrant smell of onions and coriander wafting from the bubbling pot of beans on my kitchen stove conjures up the memory of my mother, a Southerner who would have recognized and appreciated many of the humble dishes I am cooking for my study of how and what Cubans eat.

From a poor Virginia family that struggled through the Great Depression and later lived through the rationing of World War II, my mom’s stories of her early life were similar to those Cubans now tell me: struggles, scrimping and saving, wearing hand-me-downs and adding extra water to the pot for one more hungry person at the supper table.

She talked a lot about the food. Steaming plates of black-eyed peas ensured good luck every New Year’s Day. A Christmas ham glazed with pineapple was a rare treat for folks who regularly ate more lima beans than meat.

Living on rations in Cuba: Meals made up of rations and goods from farmers’ markets

By ANITA SNOW – Associated Press – May 31, 2007

HAVANA (AP) _ The ration book that determines most Cuban diets _ and that will briefly rule mine _ fits in my palm. Thick brown pages list amounts of foodstuffs to be checked, signed and stamped at “la bodega,” the local government distribution center.

In my eight years as Havana bureau chief for The Associated Press, I’ve developed great friendships and deep respect for the Cuban people. But as a foreigner paid in U.S. dollars, I’ve never lived the way most Cubans do, using their ingenuity to make sure there’s enough to eat at month’s end.

The foundation of the Cuban diet is the communist government’s ration book, or “libreta,” and as a foreigner, I’m not entitled to one. Cubans, meanwhile, are barred by law from selling or trading their deeply subsidized rations, which cost 33 Cuban pesos a month, about $1.30. That’s roughly 10 percent of the average government salary of 350 Cuban pesos, about $16.

But food is so central to life and culture that I won’t fully appreciate the Cuban experience until I eat as they do. So I’ve decided to spend June eating nothing but the rations and other food that Cubans earning an average salary can buy at farmers’ markets using Cuban pesos.

Castro temporarily cedes power to brother for surgery; condition ‘advancing positively’

By ANITA SNOW – Associated Press – August 01, 2006

HAVANA (AP) _ Fidel Castro, who has wielded absolute power over Cuba and defied the United States for nearly a half century, was recovering from intestinal surgery Tuesday, his allies said, after temporarily turning over authority to his brother Raul.

The Venezuelan government said Fidel Castro’s recovery was “advancing positively” after surgery, citing information from the island’s government without providing details. A leftist Argentine lawmaker said Castro aides told him the surgery was successful and that Castro was resting peacefully.

The surprise announcement that Castro had been operated on to repair a “sharp intestinal crisis with sustained bleeding” stunned Cubans on the island and in exile, and marked the first time that Castro, two weeks away from 80th birthday, had relinquished power in 47 years of rule.

Elian Gonzalez returns home, ending seven-month American saga

By ANITA SNOW – Associated Press – June 28, 2000

HAVANA (AP) _ Seven months after he was cast adrift in the Florida Straits, Elian Gonzalez returned to his native Cuba Wednesday evening, bringing to a close an international custody battle that stirred Cold War passions.

After a three-hour journey from Washington, Elian’s father, Juan Miguel Gonzalez, lifted the 6-year-old boy down the plane’s staircase to the tarmac in Havana, where they were embraced by Elian’s tearful grandmothers and other relatives.

“Elian! Elian! Elian!” chanted about 800 children from the first-grader’s elementary school, waving small red, white and blue Cuban flags in the celebration at the small Jose Marti Airport. They sang along as a military band struck up Cuba’s national anthem.

Cuba’s Guantanamo

By ANITA SNOW – Associated Press – May 28, 2000

GUANTANAMO, Cuba (AP) _ The watchtowers along the barbed wire severing the U.S. military base from communist territory bear silent witness to decades of Cold War still playing out in southeastern Cuba.

An American UH-1N Huey helicopter buzzes the line, swirling dust around cactus and grayish henequen plants dotting the sun-baked semidesert that hugs the deep blue Guantanamo Bay.

Camouflage-clad Cuban soldiers schooled in the politics of Ernesto “Che” Guevara and Karl Marx keep watch in what they call “free territory.”

But while Cuba’s elite Frontier Brigade considers Guantanamo the front line of defense against the “Yanqui enemy,” tensions that once crackled along 17.4 miles of tornado fencing are now whispers.

“There has been a relaxation since around 1995,” Col. Gamalier Estevez, the Frontier Brigade’s commander, said during a rare visit by American journalists to the area patrolled outside the 45-square-mile U.S. base. “Before, there were many provocations by American soldiers.”