Three Dead, 172 Injured In Havana Tornado

Cuban police cordon off a street in the tornado-hit Luyano neighbourhood in Havana early on January 28, 2019.  ADALBERTO ROQUE / AFP


A rare and powerful tornado that struck Havana killed three people and left 172 injured, Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel said early Monday.

Diaz-Canel, who toured the darkened streets of Havana in the pre-dawn hours visiting emergency crews, wrote on Twitter that damage to the Cuban capital from the late Sunday tornado was “severe.”

The tornado overturned vehicles, uprooted trees, knocked down lampposts, and left part of the city in the dark.

In the city’s Luyano neighborhood storm debris — including parts of a balcony ripped off an old building —  blocked the streets, AFP photographers reported.

As emergency sirens blared across the city, firefighters and ambulances rushed about on rescue missions, their flashing lights giving light to blacked out areas.

“Aas of now we mourn the loss of three human lives and 172 injured people are receiving aid”, Diaz-Canel tweeted.

He added that several emergency teams were working hard to restore power to blacked-out areas.

At the Hijas de Galicia maternity hospital staff were forced to evacuate the building due to storm damage.

The tornado, spawned by a powerful storm that originated in the Gulf of Mexico, hit western Cuba with winds of up to 100 kilometers (62 miles) per hour.

People described the tornado as having “the sound of a jet engine,” and reported feeling changes in the environmental pressure when it arrived, Armando Caymares with the Institute of Meteorology said.

The tornado “caught me in the street, in the car with my wife and children,” actor Luis “Panfilo” Silva wrote on his social media account.

“I had to dodge fallen trees, flooded areas and strong winds until I managed to get home. We experienced great fear,” he wrote.


Many Feared Killed As Cuba Airliner Crashes On Takeoff

Many Feared Killed As Cuba Airliner Crashes On Takeoff
Emergency personnel work at the site of the accident after a Cubana de Aviacion aircraft crashed after taking off from Havana’s Jose Marti airport on May 18, 2018. Yamil LAGE / AFP


A Cuban state airways plane with 104 passengers on board crashed shortly after taking off from Havana Friday, leaving a wreck of smouldering fuselage, as the country’s president warned many people were feared dead.

The Boeing 737 operated by Cubana de Aviacion crashed into a field close to a wooded area near Havana’s Jose Marti airport, sending a thick column of acrid smoke into the air, an AFP journalist at the scene said.

The plane was almost completely destroyed in the crash and subsequent fire. Firefighters, some still hosing down the burnt fuselage, and rescue workers combed through the wreckage, but there seemed little chance of finding survivors.

What appeared to be one of the wings of the plane was wedged among scorched tree trunks, but the main fuselage appeared to have been entirely destroyed.

Cuba’s President Miguel Diaz-Canel, who went to visit the scene, said there was a “high number” of casualties.

“There has been an unfortunate aviation accident. The news is not very promising, it seems that there is a high number of victims,” Diaz-Canel was quoted as saying after his visit.

Diaz-Canel said nine crew members were believed to have been on board, in addition to the passengers.

The 58-year-old president, who succeeded Raul Castro as the island’s leader only last month, appeared aghast as he surveyed the recovery efforts, wearing a short-sleeved green shirt and surrounded by officials.

Airport sources said the jetliner was heading from the capital to the eastern city of Holguin.

State television said the airliner was operated by a foreign crew, but gave no details.

Reports said European airline Blue Panorama had been leasing a 737-400 plane to Cubana de Aviacion for several months.

The last major airline crash in Cuba was in July 1997, when an Antonov-24 passenger plane fell into the sea off Santiago de Cuba. All 44 aboard were killed, including two Brazilians and two Spaniards.

In March 2002, a small Antonov-2 plane travelling from Cienfuegos to Cayo Coco crashed in the central province of Santa Clara. All 16 people aboard, among them six Canadian tourists, four Britons and two Germans.


Airliner Crashes On Takeoff From Havana

Airliner Crashes On Takeoff From Havana
(FILES) In this file picture taken on April 28, 2009, shows an empty check-in desk of Cubana de Aviacion airline in Mexico City’s international airport. Ronaldo SCHEMIDT / AFP



A Cuban state airways plane with 104 passengers on board crashed shortly after taking off Friday from Havana’s Jose Marti airport, leaving a thick column of smoke over the scene.

The Boeing 737 operated by Cubana de Aviacion crashed in a field near the airport, and a column of acrid smoke was rising over the crash site, an AFP journalist at the scene said.

There were no initial reports of casualties on the ground.

Cuba’s President Miguel Diaz-Canel, who went to visit the scene, said there was a “high number” of casualties.

“There has been an unfortunate aviation accident. The news is not very promising, it seems that there is a high number of victims,” Diaz-Canel was quoted as saying shortly after visiting the scene.

Diaz-Canel said nine crew members were believed to have been on board, in addition to the passengers.

Airport sources said the jetliner was heading from the capital to the eastern city of Holguin.

State television said the airliner was operated by a foreign crew, but gave no details.

Reports said European airline Blue Panorama had been leasing a 737-400 plane to Cubana de Aviacion for several months.


President Buhari Advised Against Foreign Loans

President Buhari Advised Against Foreign LoansThe World Vice President of Global Industrial Union who is also the former National Vice President of the Nigerian Labour Congress, Issa Aremu has called on President Muhammadu Buhari to heed late Fidel Castro’s advice on the danger of indiscriminate foreign loans and credits.

Fidel Castro, is the iconic Cuban revolutionary leader who presided over the Republic of Cuba as Prime Minister from 1959 to 1976 and then as President from 1976 to 2008.

He died on Friday November 25, 2016 in Havana, Cuba at the age of 90.

Aremu made the call in Ilorin, the Kwara state capital during a press conference on the death of the former Cuban leader and the need for Nigerian leaders to emulate his exemplary leadership style.

“His death is a shock coming just few months after the global progressive forces including the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and Industrial Global Union marked his 90th birthday.

“Fidel Castro had long in his decade-long battle of developmental ideas made a case for self-reliance. He had compared the debt burden to that torment in Greek mythology in which a man is doomed to push a large stone uphill for all eternity, a stone that always rolls down again before reaching the top. Debtors, he maintained ‘don’t need new loans’.

“Fidel has since been proven right that most debts were unpayable and uncollectible.

“We must credit the series of debt cancellation of the two decades to audacious alternative views of Fidel Castro, not the astuteness of “negotiators” and so called altruism of creditors.

“President Buhari should emulate the selfless leadership of Fidel Castro because no country can develop through loans and credit. He must work his talk, if he is truly paying tribute to Castro and must withdraw his application for loan to the National Assembly.

“Buhari should not take us back to indebtedness and should be selfless. Buhari and his cabinet members should set example by using the state house hospital,” Aremu said.

The labour leader also berated what he called the western media’s posthumous distortion of history which presented Fidel as a rebel and strong man who with iron hands muzzled the people of Cuban Island.

He called on African leaders to ‎know their history and remember Castro’s contribution to Africa.

‎He also called on Nigerian leaders from federal to state level to emulated Castro’s selfless nature, especially the two-termed state governors, to stop collecting outrageous pensions allocated to them by the state house of assembly.

‎According to him, “the outrageous pension given to two-term governors call for concern because they are under-developing states.

“Comrade Adams Oshiomole as a comrade governor, with his remarkable achievements having beaten other governors, should not join them because the money is unnecessary.

“If he does so, it will amount to the saying that ‘if you can’t beat them, you join them’ but he has beaten them with his achievements as governor.

“State houses of assembly should make laws for public good not for executive benefit‎. The danger of the pension law is that it is now getting addictive and spreading like wild fire to other states of the federation and to me it is pure legal robbing.”

Colombia And FARC Rebels Sign Historic Peace Agreement

cuba bbc newsAfter four years of dialogue, the Colombian government and the FARC rebel group have signed a historic peace accord, putting an end to more than five decades of conflict.

This announcement was made at the Cuban capital, Havana, where peace talks were launched in November 2012.

Both sides have agreed to work together to address social exclusion, deliver justice to the victims of the conflict and build a stable and enduring peace.

“Today I can say – from the bottom of my heart – that I have fulfilled the mandate that you gave me,” President of Juan Manuel Santos told Reuters.

“Colombians: the decision is in your hands. Never before have our citizens had within their reach the key to their future,” he said.

The conflict has killed an estimated 220,000 people and displaced millions.

Meanwhile, the United States President, Barack Obama on a phone call congratulated his Colombian counterpart, Juan Santos, on the deal.

“The president recognised this historic day as a critical juncture in what will be a long process to fully implement a just and lasting peace agreement, that can advance security and prosperity for the Colombian people,” said the White House in a statement.

Barack Obama Makes Historic Visit To Cuba

Barack ObamaPresident Barack Obama has arrived for a three-day historic visit to Cuba and to hold talks with its communist leader.

This is the first time in several decades, a US President is visiting the island nation of Cuba.

He arrived in Cuba with his wife, Michelle Obama, his two daughters and his mother-in-law.

Mr Obama is the first sitting President of the United States to visit since the 1959 revolution, which heralded decades of hostility.

Speaking at the reopened US embassy in Havana, he called the visit “historic” as he also spent time in the old city.

During the historic visit, President Obama would meet Cuban President, Raul Castro, but not retired revolutionary leader, Fidel Castro, and the pair would discuss trade and political reform.

Pope Francis Holds Historic Talks With Russian Orthodox Patriarch

pope Francis and KirillHistory has been made in Cuba where Pope Francis and the Russian orthodox, Patriarch Kirill, have held a first of its kind meeting.

At the talks which is the first between a Pope and a Russian church head since the western and eastern branches of Christianity split in the 11th century, both men called for Restored Christian Unity between the two churches.

In a joint declaration, they also urged the world to protect Christians from persecution in the middle east.

Patriarch Kirill has been the head of the Russian Orthodox Church since February 2009, while Pope Francis took up his role in March 2013.

The Roman Catholic Church has more than a billion members worldwide, while the Russian Orthodox Church numbers about 165 million.

The Russian Church is the largest and most powerful in the Orthodox faith, which is made up of a number of separate churches.

The encounter in Havana is not expected to lead to any immediate rapprochement between the Eastern and Western Churches.

Ahead of the meeting, the foreign policy Chief of the Russian Orthodox Church, Metropolitan Illarion, said there were still differences between the two churches, in particular on western Ukraine.

The Pope has now arrived in Mexico for a five-day visit. The country has the world’s second largest catholic population.

UN Backs Colombia Peace Deal Mission

 UN The UN Security Council has approved the creation of an unarmed mission in Colombia to oversee a bilateral ceasefire, if Farc rebels and the government signs a peace agreement.

The 15-member council unanimously adopted a British-drafted resolution that would establish a political mission for 12 months “to monitor and verify the definitive bilateral ceasefire and cessation of hostilities, and the laying down of arms.”

In a televised speech on Monday night, Colombian President, Juan Manuel Santos, said: “Today, Colombia is the synonym for hope in the world”.

“The decision taken by the Security Council means that from now we are not alone – but that we go hand in hand with the UN, with the whole world – toward the end of this war,” said Santos, who staked his 2014 re-election on the peace talks with Farc.

The mission would have a one-year mandate that can be extended if both sides request it.

Negotiators for the two sides issued a joint request for the UN’s involvement last week during peace talks in Cuba.

They have set a deadline of March 23 for the signing of a peace accord.

The UN “political mission” would consist of unarmed observers from Latin American and Caribbean nations.

Colombia has seen decades of fighting between the government and the left-wing Farc movement, with more than 220,000 people killed and millions displaced. It is the longest-running armed conflict in the western hemisphere.

The UN resolution asked Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, to make detailed recommendations on the mission’s size and operation to be approved by the security council within 30 days of a ceasefire.

Last week, the Colombian government’s lead negotiator, Humberto de la Calle, described the request to the UN as a “transcendental” moment.

He said it was an “unequivocal demonstration of our desire to end confrontation”.

Since official peace talks started in Havana in November 2012, negotiators have reached agreement on key issues such as the political participation of the rebels, land rights, drug trafficking and transitional justice.

Pope Celebrates Mass In Cuba

popePope Francis is in the Cuban capital, Havana, where he has celebrated a mass in front of thousands of people.

Pope Francis, who is on a trip to Cuba and the US, has been credited with helping with the recent renewal of diplomatic ties between the two countries.

The Pope said that he was in Cuba to further strengthen those ties.

During his homily, he said that “Christians are constantly called to set aside their own wishes and desires, their pursuit of power, and to look instead to those who are most vulnerable”.

After the mass, Pope Francis met Fidel Castro at his house in Havana for about 30 minutes. The two men exchanged books as gifts.

However, dissidents shouting and attempting to distribute flyers at the edge of Revolution Square, were arrested by security forces.

Fidel Castro Chides U.S Ahead Of Embassy Reopening

castroAhead of the historic reopening of the U.S. Embassy in Cuba, former Cuban leader, Fidel Castro, has published an open letter to the nation in which he criticises American foreign and economic policies since World War Two.

The letter was published to mark Mr Castro’s 89th birthday.

He also accused the U.S. of owing Cuba millions of dollars.

The former leader said that the US owes Cuba money because of the trade embargo the U.S. imposed on the communist-run island in 1960.

Cuba says the embargo which it calls a blockade, is hugely damaging to its economy.

The U.S Embassy reopens in Havana on Friday, with the U.S. Secretary of State, John Kerry attending.



US, Cuba Formally Restore Diplomatic Relations

cuba, US, restoring diplomatic relationsThe United States and Cuba have quietly ushered in a new era of post-Cold War relations, formally restoring diplomatic relations after an agreement struck last year putting aside decades of hostility.

The diplomatic missions of each country became full embassies on Monday, after midnight local time.

Cuba Foreign Minister, Bruno Rodriguez, would preside around 10:30 a.m. over the raising of the Cuban flag for the first time in 54 years over a mansion that would serve as Havana’s embassy in Washington.

The hugely symbolic event would be followed by a meeting at the State Department between Secretary of State, John Kerry and Rodriguez, the first Cuban foreign minister on an official visit to Washington since the 1959 Cuban Revolution.

While the Cubans hold their ceremony, the U.S. Embassy in Havana would also reopen.

But no American flag would fly there until a visit by Kerry, expected next month.

“We wanted the secretary to be there to oversee these important events,” a State Department official said.

Starting Monday, the Cuban government would pull back some of the tight cordon of security that had surrounded America’s diplomatic mission in Havana and no longer record the names of Cubans entering the building, U.S. officials said.

The heads of the respective Interest Sections in Cuban and American would become charges d’affaires until ambassadors are named.

More than 500 people would attend the Cubans’ festivities in Washington, including members of Congress. No invitations went out to hardline anti-Castro lawmakers. The U.S. delegation would be headed by Assistant Secretary of State, Roberta Jacobson.

Kerry and Rodriguez last met in April at the Summit of the Americas in Panama, where Obama and Castro also held talks. Aides see the outreach to Cuba as a boost to Obama’s legacy.

The re-establishment of embassies, agreed to on July 1, opened a new chapter of engagement by easing government contacts heavily constrained since the United States broke off relations in 1961.

The normalisation process had been slowed by lingering disputes, including over human rights as well as Havana’s desire to keep a tight rein on its society and state-run economy.


U.S. Cyber Leaker Snowden Sits Tight In Moscow Transit

Former U.S. spy agency contractor Edward Snowden was believed to still be at a Moscow airport on Thursday and officials said he had not booked a flight out despite pressure from Russian President Vladimir Putin to leave.

Snowden fled the United States to Hong Kong this month after leaking details of secret U.S. government surveillance programs, then flew to Moscow on Sunday. He had been expected to fly on to Havana on Monday but did not board the aircraft.

The 30-year-old American, who faces espionage charges in the United States and has asked Ecuador for political asylum, has not been seen since his arrival. Russian officials said he remained in a transit area at Sheremetyevo airport.

A source at Russian airline Aeroflot said that neither Snowden nor his travelling companion Sarah Harrison, a researcher for the anti-secrecy group Wikileaks, had booked a seat on Thursday’s flight to Havana.

An Aeroflot representative said earlier that Snowden had not booked a flight departing in the coming days.

An immigration official said Snowden had not applied for a visa to enter Russia and that he could remain in the transit area “as long as he wants” without applying for a transit visa.

Putin has rejected U.S. calls to expel Snowden to the United States and said on Tuesday that he should choose his destination and leave the Moscow airport as soon as possible. Ecuador has said it could take weeks to decide on his asylum request.