CUBA: US official: Diplomatic access given to American jailed while working as contractor
HAVANA (AP) _ The Cuban government has given a U.S. diplomat access to a jailed American citizen accused of providing communications equipment to dissident groups while working as a government contractor, a U.S. official in Havana said Tuesday.
The case has drawn denunciations from Cuban President Raul Castro and further strained U.S.-Cuba relations after months of slow but steady progress toward easing their half-century diplomatic standoff.
The visit by a consular official took place Monday at an undisclosed location where the American is being held following his arrest in early December, according to a spokeswoman at the U.S. Interests Section, which Washington maintains in Havana instead of an embassy.
"We were given access by the Cubans yesterday," Gloria Berbena told The Associated Press. "He was visited by a consular representative from the U.S. Interests Section."
In Washington, State Department spokesman Ian Kelly said the Obama administration remains "focused on the welfare of the detained U.S. citizen."
Both declined to give any further details on the encounter, the detained man's whereabouts or his condition, citing federal privacy laws. Neither government has identified him.
The State Department said previously that he was working as a subcontractor for the Maryland-based economic development organization Development Alternatives Inc.
CARIBBEAN: Yemeni links to airliner plot threaten US efforts to empty Guantanamo
SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) _ The alleged Yemeni roots of the attack on a Detroit-bound airliner threaten to complicate U.S. efforts to empty Guantanamo, where nearly half the remaining detainees are from Yemen.
Finding a home for them is key to President Barack Obama's pledge to close the prison, but emerging details of the plot are renewing concerns about Yemen's capacity to contain militants and growing al-Qaida safe havens.
While inmates of other nationalities have left Guantanamo in droves, roughly 90 Yemenis have been held at the U.S. military prison in Cuba for as long as seven years.
A breakthrough seems less likely since al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula claimed responsibility for the plot to bomb a U.S.-bound airliner on Christmas Day. The group counts two former Guantanamo detainees among its leaders, and some in the U.S. Congress are warning against sending any more detainees to Yemen.
David Remes, an attorney who represents Guantanamo detainees, said he fears concerns about the terror threat will block the repatriation of any inmates to Yemen, including those already cleared for release.
The U.S. has expressed concern about the handling of militants in Yemen, a mountainous, impoverished country on the southern tip of the Arabian peninsula that has been an al-Qaida haven partly because of a weak central government.
On Tuesday, officials in Yemen were investigating whether the Nigerian suspected in the attempted attack on a U.S. airliner spent time with al-Qaida militants in the country.
DOMINICAN REPUBLIC: Presidential pardon in hand, French pair walks out of prison to go home
SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic (AP) _ Two Frenchwomen convicted of drug trafficking were released from a Dominican prison and headed back to Paris on Tuesday.
Sarah Zaknoun, 19, and Celine Faye, 20, left a women's penitentiary near Santiago accompanied by French officials. They were helicoptered to the capital, Santo Domingo, and taken to the French Embassy to await a commercial flight home, embassy spokeswoman Cecilia Henique said.
The women were arrested in June 2008 while trying to board a flight to Paris carrying six kilograms (more than 13 pounds) of cocaine, the newspaper Clave Digital reported.
A Dominican court sentenced them to eight years in prison. But their case became a cause celebre in France, and interventions by officials and luminaries including first lady Carla Bruni-Sarkozy helped them secure a Christmas Eve pardon from Dominican President Leonel Fernandez.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy cheered the decision last week and said the women will not face further charges or jail time back home. They were expected to arrive in Paris Wednesday morning aboard an Air France jet, Henique said.
Zaknoun and Faye's pardons were granted after the two countries signed a convention that lets criminals serve jail sentences in their native lands. Some 35 Dominicans are imprisoned in France, while at least 17 other French citizens are currently jailed in the Dominican Republic.
The Caribbean nation is a transshipment point for Colombian cocaine bound for the United States and Europe, according to government reports.
Zaknoun and Faye, who had been in the country for a week before their arrest, maintain they did not know the drugs were in their luggage.
CUBA: Famed Tropicana nightclub still sexy and sinful at 70
HAVANA (AP) _ When the Tropicana nightclub and casino opened its doors in a leafy Havana garden on Dec. 30, 1939, World War II was raging in Europe, "Gone With the Wind" had just hit U.S. theaters and a rebellious youngster named Fidel Castro had just turned 13.
So much has changed in the 70 years since _ but not the Tropicana show, which offers those willing to pay the price an intoxicating peek at an era when Cuba was America's naughty island playground, a place where nearly anything was possible, and legal.
The club marked its big anniversary this week with the same celebration of glamour and kitsch, sin and sensuality, sequins, feathers, showgirls and Latin beats that has made it one of the world's most famous _ and infamous _ nightspots.
In a gala that stretched past midnight Monday, about 850 tourists, government officials and special invitees watched tributes to Tropicana legends such as Nat King Cole and Rita Montaner and listened to pulsating salsa, samba and son music. There was a big band, a contortionist act, an a-cappella rendition of "The Banana Boat Song" and a two-man acrobatics team in skintight leotards.
And then there were the showgirls.
DOMINICAN REPUBLIC: Official: Fake bomb threat briefly delays JetBlue flight
SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic (AP) _ Officials say an anonymous bomb threat briefly grounded a JetBlue flight that was departing the Dominican Republic for Puerto Rico.
Airline spokeswoman Jenny Dervin says the Tuesday morning flight to San Juan was delayed by 40 minutes. She said she did not know whether the caller had singled out a specific airline or flight at Las Americas Airport in Santo Domingo.
Dominican officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment. It is unclear if the caller was identified or anyone arrested.
The threat was made as authorities worldwide increase security following an attempted Christmas Day attack on a U.S.-bound flight.
JAMAICA: Police pursue suspected mastermind of 'guns-for-ganja' deal after shootout
KINGSTON, Jamaica (AP) _ Jamaican authorities are searching for the suspected mastermind of a "guns-for-ganja" deal with Haitian traffickers following a shootout with police.
Sgt. Jubert Llewellyn says police are looking for Conrad Peru in the rugged limestone terrain of the island's interior.
Llewellyn says four suspects died in Sunday's shootout and five more were wounded, possibly including Peru. One policeman was wounded but later released from the hospital.
Llewellyn said Tuesday that two submachine guns and six 9 mm pistols were recovered at the scene.
Police say Jamaican gangs use fishermen as go-betweens to trade marijuana for high-powered guns from Haiti.
Many of those weapons are believed to come originally from the U.S.
US VIRGIN ISLANDS: Officials investigate reports that protected pelicans maybe poisoned
CHARLOTTE AMALIE, U.S. Virgin Islands (AP) _ U.S. Virgin Islands authorities are investigating whether five protected brown pelicans were illegally poisoned on St. Thomas.
The birds were found dead in a fishing community in the capital, Charlotte Amalie.
Natural Resources spokesman Jamal Nielsen said Tuesday that a tipster called the department to say they were poisoned. He did not give further details.
Brown pelicans were removed from the federal endangered species list earlier this month.
But they are still a protected species in the U.S. Caribbean territory.
Violators face fines of up to $10,000 and 60 days in jail.
PUERTO RICO: 46 flights canceled because of ash blowing in from volcano in Montserrat
SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) _ More than 40 commercial flights scheduled to enter and depart Puerto Rico have been canceled because of volcano ash hovering over the U.S. Caribbean territory.
Ports Authority spokeswoman Mariana Rodriguez says JetBlue, AirTran Airways, American Eagle and Continental were the majority of flights affected Tuesday night.
She said ash from the Soufriere Hills volcano in nearby Montserrat settling at 10,000 feet (3,000 meters) is causing poor visibility.
Rodriguez said operations at the Luis Munoz Marin International Airport in Isla Verde and the airports in Aguadilla and Ponce should return to normal by Wednesday.
She said 45 commercial flights and one cargo flight were canceled.
PUERTO RICO: Man drowns in flooding as authorities say more than $1M in damage from rains
SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) _ Puerto Rico authorities say flooding from heavy rains has killed one man and caused more than $1 million in damage in the island's interior.
Emergency response spokeswoman Ana Santos says 65-year-old Roberto Mateo Rosario was found dead in Aibonito Tuesday.
Gov. Luis Fortuno declared a state of emergency in the region after downpours caused floods and mudslides on Christmas Eve.
PUERTO RICO: Heavy surf closes Puerto Rico bay, delays arrival of cruise ship
SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) _ Rough seas have led Puerto Rico to close the Bay of San Juan and change the itinerary of at least one cruise ship.
Port Authority director Alvaro Pilar says the Independence of the Seas will arrive on Thursday, two days late.
He says the U.S. Coast Guard allowed some ships to make port Tuesday: the cruise liner Celebrity Solstice and two freighters.
But otherwise the bay is off-limits to navigation. Officials will reopen it when conditions improve, perhaps by Wednesday.
Forecasters say waves as high as 25 feet (8 meters) are battering the island's north coast.
Police in the coastal city of Arecibo say one home was flooded by the heavy surf.
CUBA: Havana says all 4 Florida Senate candidates will be bad for relations with US
HAVANA (AP) _ Cuba's official media lashed out at all four main candidates to become Florida's next senator _ Democrats and Republicans alike _ saying Tuesday they will do nothing to improve relations between Havana and Washington.
Republicans Marco Rubio and Charlie Crist and Democrats Kendrick Meek and Maurice Ferre all have voiced support for continuing Washington's 47-year trade embargo on the island, according to an article Tuesday in the Communist Party newspaper Granma.
The paper called them part of a "Miami mafia machine that dominates the city and North American policies toward Cuba."
Rubio, the son of Cuban parents, is a conservative former Florida House speaker who is challenging Gov. Crist for the Republican nomination.
Meek is a Democratic Congressman, and Ferre is a former mayor of Miami.
Each candidate addressed the hardline US-Cuba Democracy Political Action Committee (PAC) last week, arguing why he would be the best to fight for democracy in Cuba.
Florida is home to hundreds of thousands of Cuban exiles who have left the communist-run island since Fidel Castro's 1959 revolution. US-Cuba policies are one of the main issues that dominate the state's politics.
While many Cuban-Americans favor a hardline approach to the island, polls indicate a growing number support efforts to improve relations.