Spanish royalty stops in Cuba for first ever state visit
HAVANA — King Felipe VI and Queen Letizia of Spain arrived in Cuba on Nov. 11 on the first state visit to the island by a Spanish royal.
The couple disembarked in Havana at the start of a three-day visit to Cuba’s capital and the eastern city of Santiago.
The king and queen toured historic sites during the week as Havana celebrated the 500th anniversary of its founding, but they were scheduled to leave before the actual anniversary on Saturday.
The trip has sparked criticism from right-wing politicians in Spain and inspired critical opinion pieces in conservative-leaning newspapers over a trip seen as a step forward for normal relations between Spain and its former colony, a single-party communist state that cracks down harshly on dissent.
The royal couple plan to meet with cultural figures and entrepreneurs but avoid interaction with members of Cuba’s illegal political opposition.
Felipe’s father, King Juan Carlos, never made a state visit to Cuba during his four decades on the throne due to pressure from conservative political parties. He did travel to Havana in 1999 for the Ibero-American Summit and returned after he had abdicated in 2014 to attend the funeral of Fidel Castro.
Anguilla pursues warrant for man in hotel slaying
DARIEN, Conn. — Officials in Anguilla say they are preparing a warrant for the arrest of a Connecticut man who failed to appear for a pretrial hearing on a manslaughter charge.
The Attorney General’s Office for the British Caribbean territory said recently the warrant for Scott Hapgood of Darien, Connecticut, would be shared with Interpol.
Hapgood is charged in the death of a hotel worker who he says attacked his family during their April vacation.
A spokesman said Hapgood decided against returning to the island for a recent hearing because he was worried about his safety and Anguilla officials did not provide assurances he would be allowed to remain free on bond.
Anguilla’s attorney general, John McKendrick, said in a news release that the concerns about Hapgood’s safety and the fairness of proceedings were “totally groundless.”
Ex-Dominican Republic official spared prison term
NEW YORK — A former Dominican Republic ambassador who admitted his role in a United Nations bribery conspiracy was spared prison recently by a judge who credited his substantial cooperation at the trial of a Chinese billionaire.
Francis Lorenzo, 52, was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Vernon Broderick, who credited his testimony as important in the 2017 conviction of billionaire Ng Lap Seng.
Ng is serving a four-year prison term after his conviction on bribery, conspiracy and money laundering charges.
The judge ordered Lorenzo, a naturalized U.S. citizen who lives in New York City, to do 250 hours of community service and to pay $243,965 in restitution.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Douglas Zolkind said Lorenzo was paid over $1 million in bribes to help win U.N. support for Ng’s plan to use his construction company to build a U.N. center in Macau for Southern Hemisphere nations. He said Lorenzo agreed to plead guilty and tell the government how the bribery scheme was carried out.
Animal rights activists protest near Cuban capital
HAVANA — Cuban animal rights activists have staged a rare protest in Havana, where authorities swiftly crack down on unapproved demonstrations.
About 30 animal advocates gathered Monday morning in front of a pound on the outskirts of the capital where street dogs are taken to be euthanized. The demonstrator s carried signs protesting euthanasia and rough treatment of animals by city dog catchers.
Police arrived on the scene and the crowd dispersed, but authorities gave protesters 12 dogs from the pound to take home to avoid them being euthanized.
Cubans can buy imports with foreign currencies
HAVANA — The Cuban government said it would allow citizens to use 10 foreign currencies to buy products like televisions and air conditioners at state stores in an attempt to compete with a multi-billion-dollar informal market in imported goods.
The communist state has a monopoly on most forms of retail sales and all wholesaling, import and export. The only legal vendors of appliances like refrigerators and air conditioners are state stores that charge as much as 200% of the average global price for generally low-quality Chinese-made products that are often out of stock.
That has led to an illegal but tolerated black market in goods purchased abroad by individual Cubans and resold at a profit on the island.
Thousands of Cubans each year fly to shopping districts catering to them in countries ranging from Panama to Haiti to Russia. By some estimates, the sellers known as “mules” spend some $2 billion a year overseas, a major outflow of hard currency from an island already in a serious cash crunch.
Cuban officials announced last month that the prices of some consumer goods would drop for Cubans who create special new hard-currency bank accounts denominated in U.S. and Canadian dollars, Euros, British pounds, Swiss francs, Mexican pesos, Danish, Norwegian and Swedish kroner and Japanese yen.
Cubans will also be able to use the accounts to import goods through state-run companies, officials said on national television, although the precise mechanism for those private-public imports remains unclear.
Officials said the new program would start in 12 pilot stores and increase to 77 across the country over time.