On Raul Castro’s Birthday, U.S. Threatens Cuba Remittances

WASHINGTON/HAVANA (Reuters) – The Trump administration expanded on Wednesday its list of Cuban entities that Americans are banned from doing business with to include the financial corporation that handles U.S. remittances to the Communist-run country.

Military-owned Fincimex is the main Cuban partner of foreign credit card companies and money transfer firm Western Union, which Cubans in the United States have used for two decades to send money back to their loved ones on the Caribbean island.

Those remittances are all the more needed now as the coronavirus pandemic is worsening Cuba’s already grim economic outlook, grinding the key tourism industry to a halt.

A U.S. State Department spokesman said the move was designed to stop the flow of remittances through military-controlled financial institutions and the flow of hard currency to the government.

The Trump administration was challenging Cuba to identify another company not affiliated to its military that U.S. financial companies could work with, or to create one, said John Kavulich, president of the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council.

“If Cuba refuses, the Trump administration is prepared to cease remittances,” he said.

He noted a senior official had quipped to him that the sanction was “a birthday present to Raul Castro,” the leader of the Cuban Communist Party, who turned 89 on Tuesday.

New regulations implementing the sanction will be closely watched. There is the possibility existing U.S. business with Fincimex could be grandfathered in.

A Western Union spokeswoman said the company was looking into the measure but could not immediately comment.

“The U.S. government continues to act as a rogue state,” the general director for U.S. affairs of Cuba’s Foreign Ministry, Carlos Fernandez de Cossio, said on Twitter.

The administration of U.S. President Donald Trump says it is tightening the decades-old trade embargo on Cuba, unraveling the 2014-16 detente of his predecessor Barack Obama, to pressure the government to carry out democratic reform.

In private, officials say they see this tough approach to Cuba as a means of currying favor with the large Cuban-American community in south Florida, a state considered vital to Trump’s re-election chances in November.

But this action could backfire, say analysts, as it will so openly hurt the relatives of Cuban-Americans, ordinary Cubans, more than the Communist government.

“It is lamentable and counterproductive for U.S. sanctions to also include remittances,” said Pavel Vidal, a former Cuban central bank economist who teaches at Colombia’s Universidad Javeriana Cali.

Cubans could in normal times at least rely on money brought into the country in person but the government suspended air travel in March in a bid to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

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Minnesota governor makes emotional visit to site of George Floyd’s death

Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz visited the site of George Floyd’s death at the hands of Minneapolis police for the first time Wednesday, telling mourners, “I have to personally and viscerally feel this.”

“I don’t think we get another chance to fix this in this country,” Walz said, according to CNN. “I think being at the heart of this and seeing the community’s pain so viscerally, this is going to have to be that change that we look for.”

The intersection of 38th Street and Chicago Avenue, where 46-year-old Floyd, a black man, died on Memorial Day after being pinned down by a white police officer, has become a shrine to his death, which has also sparked national outrage and has fueled massive protests worldwide.

His death was ruled a homicide by the coroner’s office.

The other three officers at the scene were also fired and were charged Wednesday with aiding and abetting second-degree murder, CNN said. Arrest warrants have been issued for the three alleged accomplices.

The FBI and state authorities are investigating the incident.

“I very much worry about politicians appropriating black pain,” said Walz, who is white. “And that’s certainly not it. I have to personally and viscerally feel this.”

Floyd’s son, Quincy Mason Floyd, also visited the site Wednesday, kneeling in prayer at the scene of his father’s death

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WHO has good news and bad news about second coronavirus wave

A top World Health Organization official had good news and bad news Wednesday — warning that there was a “definite threat” of another coronavirus outbreak but adding that the world would be better prepared this time around.

“We still have neither a vaccine nor a cure for Covid-19,” Hans Kluge, the WHO’s European director, said during a news conference conducted in Russian to reach people in countries where many speak the language, from Russia to Armenia and Israel, Russia Today reported.

“The second wave is not inevitable. But an increasing number of nations are lifting restrictions, and there is a definite threat of a repeat outbreak of the Covid-19 infection. If those outbreaks are not isolated, a second wave may come and it may be very destructive,” Kluge said.

The good news, he added, was that the world was now in a better position to deal with coronavirus after the first outbreak.

“We better understand the virus, which measures work, how we must prepare,” Kluge said.

The initial pandemic, which broke out in China in late 2019, has to date killed more than 380,000 across the world, including more than 105,000 in the US.

Experts, including Dr. Anthony Fauci of the White House Coronavirus Task Force, initially predicted it could take up to 18 months to develop an effective vaccine.

But Swiss drugmaker Novartis will start producing a genetic coronavirus vaccine this month under a deal with Massachusetts researchers.

AveXis, Novartis’ gene-therapy arm, agreed to manufacture the vaccine being developed by Massachusetts Eye and Ear and Massachusetts General Hospital.

Production will start in time for clinical trials that are scheduled to begin in the second half of this year, according to a Thursday announcement.

And President Trump has asserted that a vaccine would be developed and ready for use by the end of 2020 under an ambitious effort he dubbed “Operation Warp Speed.”

“We’re getting ready so that when we get the good word that we have the vaccine, we have the formula, we have what we need, we’re ready to go, as opposed to taking years to gear up,” he said when announcing the effort last month.

“We’re gearing up. It’s risky. It’s expensive, but we’ll be saving massive amounts of time, we’ll be saving years if we do this properly,” the president added.

Trump has also bashed the WHO for its handling of the outbreak, particularly its purported kowtowing to China, and said the US was suspending relations with the organization.

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Russia engages in nuclear treaty over Trump’s proposal

Moscow, June 3 (Prensa Latina) In view of the US President Donald Trump´s proposal to debate a ‘nuclear package’ with Russia, the Presidential Press Secretary Dmitry Peskov advised on Wednesday to dedicate themselves to the Strategic Arms Treaty (START III).

I do believe that the foreign ministers of both nations (Russia and US) should further their work, given that the time for START III is running out, Peskov said.

START III, signed on April 2010 in Prague, expires next year, in which Washington -for the time being- remains silent on Moscow’s proposals to discuss an extension for this treaty, practically the only one alive in the global disarmament system.

Peskov said that elements of such a strategy were published several times and statements were made at different levels.

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Former Defense Secretary Mattis Breaks Silence to Slam Trump: ‘Three Years Without Mature Leadership’

Then-Defense Secretary James Mattis and President Donald Trump before a briefing from senior military leaders in the Cabinet Room at the White House, October 23, 2018. (Leah Millis/Reuters)
Retired Marine general James Mattis, who resigned as President Trump’s Secretary of Defense in 2018, broke his silence on the administration in a statement Wednesday, saying he was “angry and appalled” by Trump’s response to national unrest after the death of George Floyd.

Mattis, who clashed with Trump’s over the initial decision to withdraw American troops from Syria, told the Atlantic that Trump was “distracting” from the nation’s protests against police by blaming unrest on far-left groups, and slammed the president’s decision to visit the historic St. John’s Episcopal Church moments after federal police had pushed back protestors from Lafayette Square, calling it an “abuse of executive authority.”

“When I joined the military, some 50 years ago, I swore an oath to support and defend the Constitution,” Mattis said. “Never did I dream that troops taking that same oath would be ordered under any circumstance to violate the Constitutional rights of their fellow citizens—much less to provide a bizarre photo op for the elected commander-in-chief, with military leadership standing alongside.”

The White House was heavily criticized for Trump’s visit to the church — which had been set on fire by rioters on Sunday night — with D.C. mayor Muriel Bowser calling it a “shameful” decision for federal police to use “munitions” to clear protestors. The Trump administration has pushed back on claims that the police were ordered to advance with the knowledge Trump would visit the church, where he held a Bible for several minutes in front of the cameras and promised to protect the country.

The former defense secretary added that Trump is “the first president in my lifetime who does not try to unite the American people.”

“Instead he tries to divide us. We are witnessing the consequences of three years of this deliberate effort. We are witnessing the consequences of three years without mature leadership,” Mattis wrote. “We can unite without him, drawing on the strengths inherent in our civil society. This will not be easy, as the past few days have shown, but we owe it to our fellow citizens; to past generations that bled to defend our promise; and to our children.”

Trump said in January 2019 that he had “essentially” fired Mattis after he resigned in December 2018, and criticized his former Defense Secretary for not doing “too good” in respect to the administration’s policy on Afghanistan.

Mattis wrote a book that was published last year, in which he refrained from criticizing Trump. Mattis told the Atlantic in October 2019 that “when you leave an administration over clear policy differences, you need to give the people who are still there as much opportunity as possible to defend the country,” but promised not to make his silence “eternal.”

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