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CARIBBEAN BRIEFS: Florida Man Killed In Parking Lot In The Condado

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Richard McDonald Diaz

Cuba and Europe sign deal normalizing relations

HAVANA — Cuba and the European Union have signed a deal normalizing their relations after years of tensions spawned by disagreement over human rights on the island.

Federica Mogherini, the EU’s High Secretary for Foreign Affairs and Cuba Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez attended the Friday signing, which allows cooperation between Europe and Cuba on projects ranging from environmental protection to modernizing Cuba’s tax-collection system. EU policy had prevented a normal relationship with Cuba until the island opened its single-party political system and centrally planned economy.

“The deal marks a new phase in bilateral relations, a historic demonstration of mutual trust and understanding,” Mogherini said.

The agreement came nine days before President Barack Obama becomes the first U.S. president to visit Cuba in 88 years, a trip meant partly to spur business ties between the two countries in the wake of their 2014 declaration of detente.

U.S.-Cuba normalization and the promise of economic growth on the island has prompted renewed interest by European countries in maintaining their position as trading partners with Cuba.

Jeter part of MLB’s delegation in Havana

Retired New York Yankees captain Derek Jeter will be part of Major League Baseball’s delegation in Havana for the Tampa Bay Rays’ exhibition game against Cuba’s national team on March 22.

Former big leaguers Luis Tiant and Jose Cardenal, both born in Cuba, also will make the trip, the commissioner’s office said Friday.

The game will be the first for a big league team in Cuba since the Baltimore Orioles played Cuba’s national team in Havana in March 1999.

Jeter is engaged to be married to Sports Illustrated supermodel Hannah Davis of St. Thomas.

Puerto Rico reports 201 confirmed Zika cases

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — Puerto Rico’s Health Department is reporting 201 confirmed Zika cases amid warnings the U.S. territory could face an epidemic of the mosquito-borne virus.

Officials said Friday that 21 of those cases involve pregnant women. This concerns health authorities because Zika may be linked to microcephaly, which causes babies to have unusually small heads and brain damage.

The director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention visited the island on Tuesday as federal officials stepped up efforts to help prevent the spread of Zika in Puerto Rico.

Health officials say they expect thousands of pregnant women in Puerto Rico to become infected. They also warn that more than 20 percent of the island’s 3.5 million people overall could be affected.

Florida man killed in drug store parking lot in P.R.

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — A 32-year-old man from Florida was shot to death early Monday in a popular tourist district of Puerto Rico’s capital, police said.

Authorities said Richard McDonald Diaz was getting into his car with his girlfriend early Monday when he was killed before dawn in a drug store parking lot in Condado. Police say 26-year-old Meralis Calderon Rivera also was shot and is hospitalized.

Authorities said it is unclear what led to the shooting, but noted that McDonald had been accused of first-degree murder in a 2013 double killing in Puerto Rico. The charges were dropped, however.

Police said the unidentified gunman Monday was wearing a mask and did not say anything.

Police said the couple had recently moved to Kissimmee, Florida.

2 U.S. boaters rescued after running aground near P.R.

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — The U.S. Coast Guard has rescued two U.S. tourists after heavy winds and churning seas ran their boat aground on an uninhabited island west of Puerto Rico.

The agency says the boaters from Hayes and Hartfield, Virginia, were rescued Thursday from Mona Island. Authorities say their 34-foot (10-meter) sailing vessel named Sea Angel was exposed to 9-foot (3-meter) waves and winds of up to 25 knots.

The Coast Guard says the men ran aground late Tuesday and abandoned the boat to find rangers with Puerto Rico’s Department of Natural Resources stationed on the island. A helicopter later flew the two men to the northwestern coastal town of Aguadilla.

The National Weather Service has issued a high surf advisory this week for Puerto Rico.

With Cuba trip, Obama aims to renew ties

President Barack Obama will use his historic trip to Cuba to chip away at key remaining U.S. obstacles to travel and commerce with the communist island, working to push his diplomatic relaunch past the point of no return before he leaves office.

The three-day trip to Havana beginning next weekend marks the first time a sitting president will set foot in Cuba in nearly nine decades. It also is one of Obama’s final opportunities to lock in the sharp reversal in policy toward Cuba that his administration launched. In a bid to show growing momentum, the Obama administration is preparing to further ease restrictions and greenlight projects by U.S. companies in connection with the trip, according to a half-dozen individuals familiar with the administration’s plans.

Starwood, the hotel chain whose brands include Sheraton and Westin, is expected to receive a license from the Treasury Department in the coming days to operate hotels in Cuba, following extensive conversations with both Cuban and U.S. officials. If successful, Starwood would become the first and only U.S. hotel company with operations in Cuba.

The Connecticut-based chain, which is being purchased by Marriott, is exploring numerous possibilities for Cuba that include managing the famed Hotel Saratoga in central Havana, said the individuals, who weren’t authorized to discuss the plans publicly and requested anonymity. Starwood declined to offer specifics but confirmed it has applied for a license from Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, which would allow it to do business in Cuba despite congressional sanctions.

Starwood is one of a number of major U.S. travel companies actively working on plans to expand to Cuba. A Marriott spokesman said that chain was also hoping to “get a green light soon” from the U.S., adding that CEO Arne Sorenson planned to travel there for Obama’s trip. And Carnival Cruise Line, which already has U.S. approval, said it expects Cuban approval soon and plans to sail to Cuba starting May 1.

The White House declined to comment on any potential announcements related to Cuba policy or Obama’s trip.

The Obama administration is also poised to remove yet another roadblock for those who wish to visit Cuba by allowing Americans to travel independently, rather than in organized, group trips. Already, Obama has eased travel restrictions by allowing Americans traveling for one of 12 approved purposes to go without obtaining a specific license, but the forthcoming regulatory tweaks will remove the requirement that Americans go through structured trips with set itineraries, the individuals said.

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The Author

John McCarthy

John McCarthy

John McCarthy is primarily known for his investigative reporting on the U.S. Virgin Islands. A series of reports beginning in the 1990's revealed that there was everything from coliform bacteria to Cryptosporidium in locally-bottled St. Croix drinking water, according to a then-unpublished University of the Virgin Islands sampling. Another report, following Hurricane Hugo in 1989, cited a Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) confidential overview that said that over 40 percent of the U.S. Virgin Islands public lives below the poverty line. The Virgin Islands Free Press is the only Caribbean news source to regularly incorporate the findings of U.S. Freedom of Information Act requests. John's articles have appeared in the BVI Beacon, St. Croix Avis, San Juan Star and Virgin Islands Daily News. He is the former news director of WSVI-TV Channel 8 on St. Croix.

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