Conservation in Cuba

This video says about itself:

Nature and Wildlife of Cuba (full documentary)HD

2 March 2015

The island is considered a tropical paradise, including lush, green flowering plants and trees as well as a plethora of animal life. While there are many reasons why people choose to visit the country, one of them is to enjoy the unspoiled tropical terrain. A positive aspect is that there are very few animals that pose a threat to humans. In fact, the country is considered to be free of any type of dangerous snake, which is great positive all on its own. However, the plethora of animals includes endangered species and those that are uniquely indigenous to the island such as the Cuban Tree Frog.

There are over seven thousand different types of insects, five hundred different types of fish.

By Dr. Les Kaufman in the USA:

After diplomatic thaw, Cuba looks to protect nature from rising tide of tourism

October 26, 2015

Editor’s note: Earlier this month, Cuba and the U.S. agreed to work together to protect marine life in their adjacent seas. Coral scientist and CI Marine Conservation Fellow Les Kaufman recently traveled to Cuba to survey the health of its biodiversity, which has been off-limits to U.S. citizens for decades.

During my decades of coral reef research on the northern coast of Jamaica, my colleagues and I often ended our work days, good Jamaican rum in hand, staring through the heat lightning across the Caribbean toward Cuba.

Isolated by a decades-long freeze on trade and tourism with its massive neighbor to the north, Cuba’s vintage-car-lined streets and vibrant culture have long held allure for outsiders. But I was just as interested in what lay below the surface.

Cuba is home to a bevy of world-class ecologists whose years of hard work under difficult circumstances have revealed some of the best remaining coral reefs, mangrove forests and seagrass beds in the tropical Atlantic. Cubans and the Cuban government are proud of their natural heritage, and fully aware of the uniqueness and importance of their nation’s biodiversity. They are also keenly aware of the diverse livelihoods that nature can support in a tourism-based economy. Furthermore, though the entire archipelago has been ravaged by centuries of unsustainable sugar cane production and shipbuilding, much of Cuba’s natural heritage remains intact — or at least restorable.

With the recent thaw of diplomatic relations with the U.S., Cuba will inevitably see an influx of American visitors. In light of both the increase in tourism and the development that will follow, it’s crucial to survey and safeguard the health of the country’s natural areas. I was to be part of a small group of American coral reef scientists invited by the organization Ocean Doctor to join forces with our Cuban colleagues to address the challenges of maintaining the health of their country’s biodiversity.

A conservationist’s dream

Last month, I stood on the tarmac in Havana’s viscous August heat and humidity for a two-week appointment with some rare wildlife, from the world’s largest woodpecker to the vivid Gramma dejongi, one of the world’s most beautiful reef fishes.

With me was Dr. Joe Roman, a well-known Vermont-based conservation biologist, author and specialist on marine mammals. Joe is an originator of the “whale pump” hypothesis — the idea that whale poop is key to ocean nutrient cycling in space and time. Also with me was Dr. Jackie Liederman, Boston University neurobiologist and, by chance, also my beloved wife.

Our trio arrived a week ahead of the rest of our group to familiarize ourselves with Cuba’s famed biodiversity, culture and storied landscapes above and below the waterline. At the Bay of Pigs and Zapata Swamp, a few hours southeast of Havana, we met Arturo Kirkconnell, a leading expert on Cuban birds. Together with his son Arturo Jr., he has logged decades of detailed study of the birds and their habitats in Zapata National Park, the Caribbean’s largest, most intact and most species-rich wetland landscape.

The list of what we saw was a conservationist’s dream: Cuban vireo and trogon (the national bird), bee and emerald hummingbirds, Zapata wrens and sparrows, pygmy and bare-legged owls, and two of our prizes: Fernandina’s flicker (a ground-loving woodpecker), and Gundlach’s hawk. The lush shoreline forests of Zapata were dominated by large wild tamarind, with swamp forest lorded over by pagoda-like black olive trees and spectacular Cuban royal palm. We also knew that somewhere in those tannin-stained waters were the legendary Cuban gar and cichlids. At first glance, Zapata seemed remarkably intact, a place of shining promise and an example for the Caribbean and the world.

For some species, an uncertain future

Realizing this bright promise will not be easy. Encroachment and habitat destruction nibble at the edges of Zapata, and eat at it from the inside out. African walking catfish, tilapia, water milfoil and exotic trees like paperbarks have invaded the swamp. Some of the native freshwater fish species, many found only in Cuba, are barely hanging on. On our way out of the swamp we stopped at a conservation center where Cuban gar and other endangered and endemic freshwater fishes are being bred to someday repopulate the wild — if this habitat can be adequately protected.

The future of the Cuban gar and Cuban crocodile both are highly uncertain, as is the Cuban population of Caribbean manatee. The Zapata rail has not been seen in at least a decade, while the Cuban royal woodpecker (either a relative or a subspecies of the famed ivory-billed) has been missing in action for a quarter-century. The bee hummingbird — the world’s smallest bird — is in decline, likely due to habitat destruction. Several of the island’s endemic hutia species (guinea-pig like rodents) are critically endangered or extinct. The once-common Cuban macaw was last seen in the mid to late 19th century.

On the other hand, Cuba remains home to some species that have long since vanished on nearby islands like Jamaica, mostly due to larger threats or weaker protection outside of Cuba. It has a surviving species of solenodon, an ancient, venomous, insectivorous mammal that looks like a cross between a rat and an elephant shrew. The other surviving solenodon was recently rediscovered in Haiti; the third known species went extinct in Jamaica. Cuba boasts two species of gorgeous day-flying moths, while Jamaica’s Urania sloanus — perhaps the most magnificent species in the genus — went extinct in the late 1800s.

Out of the swamp, into the sea

Slipping into the water of the Bay of Pigs, about midway between Playa Larga and Playa Giron, we were greeted by lovely, intact patch reefs, large schools of parrotfishes, surgeonfishes and snappers. Yet the water was uncomfortably warm, with many corals showing bleaching on the upper surfaces of their branches and blades.

In the shallows, however, we saw regenerating patches of endangered staghorn and elkhorn corals. It looked like there would be a full recovery, likely facilitated by the legions of herbivorous fishes about, busily grazing away the fleshy algae so threatening to the well-being of reef-building corals.

Overall, things were looking good — but when we began exploring other reefs, it was a different story.

Birds of Cuba: An Interview with Cuban Bird Expert, Arturo Kirkconnell: here.

United States authorities demand Cuba extradites political refugee Assata Shakur

This video from the USA says about itself:

Assata Shakur in Her Own Words: Rare Recording of Activist Named to FBI Most Wanted Terrorist List

3 May 2013

The FBI has added the former Black Panther Assata Shakur to its Most Wanted Terrorist List 40 years after the killing for which she was convicted. Born Joanne Chesimard, Shakur was found guilty of shooting dead a New Jersey state trooper during a gunfight in 1973. Shakur has long proclaimed her innocence and accused federal authorities of political persecution.

She escaped from prison in 1979 and received political asylum in Cuba. On Thursday, she became the first woman added to the FBI’s terrorist list and the reward for her capture was doubled to $2 million. We begin our coverage by airing Shakur’s reading of an open letter she wrote to Pope John Paul II during his trip to Cuba in 1998 after the FBI asked him to urge her extradition. “As a result of being targeted by [the FBI program] COINTELPRO, I was faced with the threat of prison, underground, exile or death,” Shakur said at the time. “I am not the first, nor the last, person to be victimized by the New Jersey system of ‘justice.’ The New Jersey State Police are infamous for their racism and brutality.”

Transcript of this video is here.

This video from the USA says about itself:

Angela Davis and Assata Shakur’s Lawyer Denounce FBI’s Adding of Exiled Activist to Terrorist List

3 May 2013

One day after the exiled former Black Panther Assata Shakur became the first woman named to the FBI’s Most Wanted Terrorist List, we’re joined by another legendary African-American activist, Angela Davis, as well as Shakur’s longtime attorney, Lennox Hinds.

Davis, a professor at the University of California, Santa Cruz, is the subject of the recent film, “Free Angela & All Political Prisoners.” She argues that the FBI’s latest move, much like its initial targeting of Shakur and other Black Panthers four decades ago, is politically motivated. “It seems to me that this act incorporates or reflects the very logic of terrorism,” Davis says. “I can’t help but think that it’s designed to frighten people who are involved in struggles today. Forty years ago seems like it was a long time ago. In the beginning of the 21st century, we’re still fighting around the very same issues — police violence, health care, education, people in prison.”

A professor of Criminal Justice at Rutgers University, Hinds has represented Shakur since 1973. “This is a political act pushed by the state of New Jersey, by some members of Congress from Miami, and with the intent of putting pressure on the Cuban government and to inflame public opinion,” Hinds says. “There is no way to appeal someone being put on the terrorist list.”

From daily The Morning Star in Britain:

Call for refugee’s extraditon threatens flights to Havana

Saturday 24th October 2015

AUTHORITIES in New Jersey are opposing airline flights to Cuba until a high-profile US refugee has been extradited.

Port Authority of New York and New Jersey chairman John Degnan urged United Airlines on Thursday to postpone the launch of services from Newark airport to Cuba.

Mr Degnan’s intervention came the day after New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, a Republican presidential hopeful, wrote to him asking for support.

The two want former Black Panther Party and Black Liberation Army member Assata Shakur extradited from Cuba to the US.

Ms Shakur, who describes herself as “20th-century escaped slave,” was jailed in 1977 for the murder of New Jersey state trooper Werner Foerster in a 1973 shoot-out.

This was despite defence testimony that she had been shot twice with her arms raised and had her right arm paralysed.

Ms Shakur escaped from prison in 1979 and fled to Cuba in 1984, where she was granted political asylum.

London police apologizes for associating Cuba with terrorism

Cuban flag

London police apologizes for associating Cuba with terrorism: here. See also here.

Saving Cuban crocodiles

This video says about itself:

Cuban Crocodile (Crocodylus rhombifer)

17 October 2011

Watch the Cuban Crocodile and learn how to recognize its unique characteristics. This video captures behaviors and identifies the size, shape and distinctive markings of the Cuban Crocodile. The Cuban Crocodile can be found in the wild and at a number of zoos around the world. Our Cuban Crocodile video is an ideal study guide for students, kids and children who want to learn more about wild animals.


April 19, 2015

Kids of Cold War crocs going to Cuba on conservation mission

Cuba’s efforts to sustain the critically endangered Cuban crocodile are getting a boost from Sweden, home to a pair of reptiles that Fidel Castro gave to a Soviet cosmonaut four decades ago.

A Stockholm zoo on Sunday is sending 10 of the couple’s children to Cuba, where they will be placed in quarantine and eventually released into the Zapata Swamp, said Jonas Wahlstrom, the zookeeper who raised them.

“It’s the dream of any zoo director to be part of releasing animals into the wild,” said Wahlstrom, 62, clutching one of the stout-legged youngsters outside its enclosure at the Skansen aquarium and zoo in Stockholm. The 10 crocodiles each are about 1 ½ years old and a meter (yard) long.

The Cuban crocodile, once found across the Caribbean, is restricted today to two swamps in Cuba, where it is threatened by interbreeding with American crocodiles, habitat loss and illegal hunting.

Wahlstrom said he received his original couple during a 1981 trip to Moscow. They had ended up in the Soviet capital after Castro gave them to cosmonaut Vladimir Shatalov in the 1970s as a token of friendship between the communist nations.

“He (Shatalov) brought them back to Moscow and he had them in his flat until his wife said: ‘No more!’ And then he had to give them to the zoo in Moscow,” Wahlstrom told The Associated Press.

But the zoo officials didn’t have a good space for the aquatic reptiles so they asked Wahlstrom if he could take them to Sweden.

“I had them as my hand luggage back from Moscow,” Wahlstrom said.

Zoo officials in Moscow confirmed the background of the crocodiles and their handover to Wahlstrom.

Later named Hillary and Castro—in a nod to international politics—the two crocodiles have become a star attraction at Wahlstrom’s zoo, where they have been breeding since 1984.

Wahlstrom said he’s sent hatchlings to zoos worldwide, but this is the first time he’s given any to Cuba for introduction into the wild.

Cuba’s representative to Sweden welcomed the move.

“We need this type of crocodiles,” Cuban Ambassador Francisco Florentino said as he inspected the animals before their departure Sunday.

With only about 4,000 animals remaining in the wild, the Cuban crocodile, or Crocodylus rhombifer, is red-listed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. The population is restricted to Cuba’s Zapata Swamp and the Isle of Youth.

This would be the first time that Cuban crocodiles raised abroad are introduced into the wild in Cuba, according to Natalia Rossi of the Wildlife Conservation Society. She’s been involved in other efforts to protect crocodiles in the Caribbean island nation but not the Swedish project.

However, the crocodiles first would be genetically screened to ensure that they come from a pure breed, Rossi said.

The Cuban crocodile can be distinguished from its American cousin by the way it walks and its characteristic bony ridge behind the eyes. But you cannot distinguish hybrid crocodiles from pure-bred Cuban crocodiles by their appearance, Rossi said.

Wahlstrom said he was sure his crocodiles were pure Cubans and expected them to adapt quickly to the real world.

“A crocodile is always ready for the wild,” Wahlstrom said. “They are always aggressive.”

As if to emphasize his point, the baby croc he was holding briefly writhed out of his grip and snapped at an AP journalist’s jacket.

James Bond’s Zapata rail re-discovery in Cuba

Zapata rail, painted by Allan Brooks

From BirdLife:

Rare glimpse of elusive rail

By Martin Fowlie, Mon, 02/03/2015 – 15:34

An ornithological search-team have caught a glimpse of one of the world’s most threatened waterbirds, the Critically Endangered Zapata Rail Cyanolimnas cerverai. The sighting is the first documented in more than four decades and offers hope to conservationists working to ensure its survival.

First described in the early twentieth century, the only nest that has ever been found was by ornithologist James Bond -a name appropriated by Ian Fleming (himself a birder) for 007– and little has since been discovered about its behaviour and breeding ecology. Hopes were fading that viable populations of the Cuban waterbird remained.

The fleeting encounter, now made public, occurred in November 2014. After a series of coordinated surveys of south-west Cuba’s Zapata Swamp, ornithologists (including Andy Mitchell and staff from the Cuban Museum of Natural History) struck gold only after deciding to cut thin strips (rides) into the sawgrass to momentarily expose the secretive birds as they moved through the wetland.

“In the first instance, the head protruded from the sawgrass at the side of the ride,” recounted Andy Mitchell. “After a few seconds the bird emerged slowly into the open, stopped for a few seconds before moving off into the sawgrass on the other side of the ride.”

Now rediscovered, conservation efforts for Zapata Rail will target the wetland in which it was spotted, an Important Bird and Biodiversity Area covering 530,695 ha of wetland in southern Matanzas province. A new project management plan will be developed to assess the species’ current population size, distribution and status.

The sighting is the latest victory in BirdLife’s Preventing Extinctions Programme, which aims to halt extinctions through rigorous science and practical conservation delivered by a range of partners on the ground.

This music video is called John Zorn – The Zapata Rail.

Rails are amazingly camouflaged birds, and their shy, mysterious habits make them even more difficult to get to know. But with these rail identification tips, even novice birders can be more confident about which of these birds they see.

CIA torturer now ‘interpreter’ at Guantanamo trial

This video by Channel 4 in Britain is called Torture -The Guantanamo Guidebook.

By Ed Hightower in the USA:

Interpreter for 9/11 defendants at Guantanamo Bay was a CIA agent

13 February 2015

On Monday, the military trials of five alleged 9/11 conspirators at Guantanamo Bay came to a temporary pause when it came to light that a court-appointed defense interpreter and linguist had previously worked at CIA “black sites” where the defendants had been detained and tortured.

According to the Associated Press, defendant Ramzi Binalshibh told the presiding judge that the interpreter seated next to him was someone that he and other defendants recognized from their earlier incarceration at secret CIA prisons before their transfer to the US Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Defense attorney Cheryl Bormann of Chicago represents Walid bin Attash, another 9/11 defendant who was present at the hearing Monday. She told the AP that Attash was “visibly shaken” to see an individual who “participated in his illegal torture” in the courtroom today.

“If this is part of the pattern of infiltration by government agencies into the defense teams, then the right people to be addressing this issue are not in the courtroom,” Bormann added.

Monday’s court proceedings were the first to take place since the release of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on the CIA’s torture of detainees at CIA and military facilities, including rectal feeding and other barbaric torture practices.

Four out of the five defendants at Monday’s hearing said that they were certain that the interpreter in question was present at the CIA detention site where they were held. Their lawyers suggested to the judge that the former CIA asset’s placement on the defense team was no accident, and they requested time to further investigate this.

On Tuesday, the Pentagon responded to the previous day’s revelations with an admission that the interpreter in question had in fact worked for the CIA.

“The member of the defense team referenced in previous hearings has in the past made readily available to prospective supervisors his prior work experience with the United States government, including with the CIA,” Pentagon spokesman Myles Caggins stated.

“The prosecution does not have any role in providing linguists to defense teams in military commission,” he added.

Defense attorney Bormann contradicted this claim in a statement to the AP, saying that the interpreters are part of a pool of linguists provided to the defense teams, and their resumes and backgrounds cannot be studied in detail.

“Now the question is what other infiltration has occurred and to what extent has it destroyed our ability to represent these men,” she said.

Further undermining Caggins’ claim was the statement by Jim Harrington, attorney for defendant Binalshibh, that the interpreter lied on his resume. Harrington told the Miami Herald on Tuesday evening that his team asked the interpreter whether he had “participated in any interrogation, questioning or done any work with respect to detainees. Any place. His resume denies it. It says he worked someplace else—Reston, Virginia, from 2002 to 2006.”

“We vetted him. He denied it,” Harrington said.

The fact that a CIA operative has found his way onto the defense team representing his former victims speaks volumes about the military commission process. Taken in context, the presence of a CIA spy on the defense team fits the show trial character of the proceedings as a whole, which have been discredited time and again by interference with the defendants’ right to counsel.

From the outset, the military tribunals against the 9/11 defendants were designed with two goals: first, to railroad the defendants into conviction by any means, including confessions extracted by torture; and second, to protect the gory details of US imperialist involvement with the Islamic fundamentalist terror groups that it arms and funds one day, and denounces, persecutes and destroys the next, depending on the foreign and domestic policy needs of the American ruling class at any given time.

Thus, the alleged conspirators in the terror attacks of 9/11—an event which has the hallmarks of US government involvement—were in many cases kidnapped from around the globe, held incommunicado and tortured, brought to Cuba for further torture and indefinite detention, and now face the death penalty in proceedings that make the secret court of Star Chamber seem equitable by comparison.

The commission is housed in a $12 million “Expeditionary Legal Complex,” where reporters sit behind soundproof glass, listening to the proceedings on a 40-second delay. A large red light bulb at the judge’s bench, seen in this video, illuminates when he or a security officer presses a button to mute the audio when the testimony may concern evidence of CIA torture or other “sensitive information.”

In January 2013, this muting device was activated without the judge’s say so, indicating that someone outside of the proceeding, and essentially above the law, can intervene and silence the audio feed at will. The Guardian later reported that this “outside” silencer was the CIA.

In February 2013, lawyers for the defendants complained of advanced surveillance devices in attorney-client meeting rooms hidden inside of phony smoke detectors. In April of that year, defense attorneys learned that some 500,000 internal emails had been seized by the Department of Defense.

In April 2014 Judge Pohl again put the proceedings on pause following revelations that the FBI had been secretly recruiting a member of the defense team’s security detail to be an informant. In fact, the CIA agent-turned-interpreter who was exposed at Monday’s hearing was serving as a replacement for an earlier interpreter who was also working with the FBI.

After allowing for the filing of motions on Tuesday, Judge Pohl denied defense motions to halt the case until further inquiry regarding the interpreter on Wednesday, saying that this was “premature.”

The uncovering of a CIA spy on the defense team underscores the sham character of the military commissions for the accused 9/11 conspirators. The defendants are systematically denied their Sixth Amendment right to an attorney, which is meaningless when attorney-client meetings are the subjects of surveillance. No attorney, no matter how skilled, can successfully represent a client who is being intimidated from having honest, open communication with his counsel.

These most recent developments in the proceedings, coming after the release of the Senate Intelligence Report on CIA torture, also highlight the terminal crisis of American democracy as a whole. Those who are accused of terrorism are tortured, indefinitely detained, intimidated and denied the right to counsel, while US government officials who invade countries, fund terrorism, institutionalize torture, and shred constitutional rights do not face so much as an indictment.

A FORMER Guantanamo detainee who was resettled in Uruguay appeared in neighbouring Argentina on Thursday wearing a prison-style orange jumpsuit and asked the country to grant asylum to detainees still held at the US concentration camp: here.

Guantánamo torturer previously led brutal Chicago police regime of shackling and confession: here.

A report in the Guardian has revealed that a leading interrogator at Guantanamo Bay had used torture to extract false confessions as a police detective in Chicago: here.

CIA whistleblower calls for prosecution of officials responsible for torture: here.

Former Gitmo Prisoner David Hicks Seeks Damages for Torture as Military Court Overturns Conviction: here.

After protracted legal action by former Guantanamo prisoner David Hicks, a US Military Commission Review has unanimously upheld the 39-year-old Australian citizen’s appeal against his bogus “providing material support for terrorism” conviction. The decision is yet another demonstration that the US-led “war on terror” and its associated crimes are built on lies: here.

Pete Townshend celebrated his 70th birthday Tuesday with the release of the politically charged new track “Guantanamo” that will be featured on his upcoming solo compilation Truancy: The Very Best of Pete Townshend. As evidenced by the title, the new song is about the American military prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. “Down in Guantanamo, we still got the ball and chain,” he sings. “There’s a long road to travel for justice to make its claim: here.

‘Obama, close Guantanamo, as you promised six years ago’

This video is called Torture -The Guantanamo Guidebook. UK’s Channel 4 “Guantanamo Guidebook” documentary.

From daily The Morning Star in Britain:

Obama Must Honour Gitmo Pledge’

Friday 23rd January 2015

HUMAN rights campaigners demanded yesterday that US President Barack Obama live up to his promise to close Guantanamo Bay, six years after he vowed to do so.

An executive order from the White House, signed by the President on January 22 2009, set out plans to close Guantanamo within a year.

But a total of 122 men are still held at the US prison camp without charge or trial today.

Fifty-four of those still detained have been cleared for release, a process involving unanimous agreement by six US federal agencies that a detainee poses no threat to the US.

Among the cleared men is British resident Shaker Aamer, from London, who has been held at the prison without charge or trial for nearly 14 years, despite having been cleared for release by both the Obama and Bush administrations.

Lawyers for Mr Aamer, who has a British wife and four children, the youngest of whom he has never seen, say that he has suffered appalling abuse.

Clive Stafford Smith, Mr Aamer’s lawyer and the director of legal charity Reprieve, said: “Obama must make good on his promise, and close the prison once and for all.”

President Obama and the Republican Congress Are on a Collision Course over Guantanamo: here.

OBAMA REGRETS NOT CLOSING GITMO ON DAY ONE President Obama said if given the chance to do his presidency over, he’d close the U.S. detention center at Guantanamo Bay on his first day in office. [Jennifer Bendery, HuffPost]

The US must return the territory it holds at Guantanamo Bay, Cuban President Raul Castro told a summit of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States on Wednesday. He also said that Washington must lift the half-century trade embargo on Cuba and compensate his country for damages before the two nations re-establish normal relations: here.