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Senators re-introduce bill that would open Cuba to American tourism

Senators Re-introduce Bill That Would Open Cuba To American TourismEfforts to repeal all travel restrictions to Cuba are moving forward after a group of U.S. senators reintroduced a bipartisan bill[1] that would once again allow tourists to visit the island nation.

The Freedom to Travel to Cuba Act, which was first introduced in 2015, received support from 55 co-sponsors on Thursday, only five votes short of the needed number to advance the legislation. If passed, the bill would shore up travel numbers, which airlines say have lagged since they were allowed to open routes to Cuban cities last year. The chief sponsors of the bill, Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) and Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), have said that lifting the travel ban would benefit both the American and Cuban people by giving the entrepreneurial and private sectors room to flourish.

It is Americans who are penalized by our travel ban, not the Cuban government, said Sen. Flake, according to a Reuters report[2].

Lagging travel numbers

While the number of U.S. visitors to Cuba rose by 74% last year, experts say that many consumers are foregoing travel to the country because of restrictions and economic factors[3] that still make the trip difficult. Currently, travelers need to fit into one of a number of categories that qualifies them for a visit to Cuba, since tourism to the island is still banned under a 54-year-old U.S. embargo. And for those who do manage to make the trip, the prospect of carrying around large amounts of cash isn t all that appealing, since no debit or credit cards work in the country because of the embargo.

President of the Washington-based Engage Cuba group James Williams commended the leaders of the bill, saying that he applauded the senators leadership in supporting the American and Cuban people by eliminating archaic, outdated policy.”

Strong opposition remains

While the bill has gained traction over time, some lawmakers still heavily oppose any ending of isolationist policies towards Cuba. Senators Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Robert Menendez (D-NJ) say travel to Cuba should not be made easier until the country has made a concerted effort to move towards democracy. President Trump has also expressed reservations about opening relations with Cuba. After his 2016 election campaign, he said[4] that he would scrap normalization efforts unless the U.S. gets a better deal. At this time, there has been no indication that Republican leaders would allow the proposal to come up for a vote.


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Rucker now in charge of local Coast Guard station

The Eufaula Coast Guard station has a new Officer in Charge by way of Hawaii and Mississippi, and BMC E. William Will Rucker III says he feels at home.

Eufaula kinda reminds me of where I grew up, said Rucker, a native of Oxford, Mississippi. It s a small southern town that s holding on to its roots. Rucker replaces BMC Holly N. Burgrabe, who reported to the Eufaula Aids to Navigation Team Eufaula in March 2016. She will now reports as the Officer in Charge of Aids to Navigation Team Fort Lauderdale in Dania, Flroida. Rucker reported to work in Eufaula on Tuesday.

I don t plan on changing a whole lot, Rucker said of taking over in Eufaula. I am looking forward to continuing the Coast Guard legacy that we have in Eufaula and continuing to support the community as Holly had done.

Rucker enlisted in the Coast Guard in 2001, completing basic training in New Jersey. His assignments include the Coast Guard Cutter STINGRAY home ported in Mobile and Coast Guard stations in Cape Canaveral, Florida, Sandy Point, New Jersey, southwest Asia, Burlington, Vermont, Galveston, Texas, Baltimore, Maryland, and most recently as the Officer in Charge of Aids to Navigation Team Honolulu, Hawaii. Rucker s awards include the Coast Guard Commendation Medal, Coast Guard Good Conduct Medal (5), Commandments Letter of Commendation, National Defense Service Medal, Global war on Terrorism Expeditionary Service Medal, Presidential Unit Citation Award Ribbon, and Sea Service Ribbon.

Rucker holds a Bachelor of Science Degree in Cyber Security from the University of Maryland.

Vermont man nicknamed ‘Beast’ sentenced after distributing oxycodone pills in Skittles bags

BURLINGTON A New York man was sentenced to 110 months in a federal prison for selling oxycodone and laundering money in Vermont from 2008 to 2012. Judge William Sessions III sentenced Michael J. Foreste, 36 of Valley Stream, NY, to 110 months’ imprisonment and an additional three years under supervised release. Foreste, nicknamed “Beast,” was convicted on 10 charges involving his trafficking of oxycodone in Vermont. The charges ranged from conspiring to distribute oxycodone in Vermont from 2008 through June 2014 all the way to money laundering.

The trial lasted two weeks, and at sentencing, Judge Sessions ordered Foreste to forfeit a 2007 Lexus which he had utilized to launder illegal drug money. During the six-year period of dealing, Foreste worked with a few accomplices, such as Andre Clarke, Carol Clarke and Dannis Hackney. Andre Clarke had been serving as a New York City police officer during the time period in question, and he pleaded guilty to his role in the operation earlier in 2017. He also resigned from the police force amid the controversy.

Carol Clarke, Andre Clarke’s sister from Brooklyn, was the main source for the drug scheme. She received a monthly prescription for hundreds of oxycodone to dull her sickle cell disease which she then sent to her brother for later distribution, the Attorney General’s Office said. Foreste originally transported the pills to Vermont and sold them off on his own. However, in April 2012, Vermont State Police pulled over Foreste and seized 659 oxycodone pills. After the confiscation, Foreste received a federal conviction in 2013 for possession with intent to distribute oxycodone and was on pretrial release when the crimes in the current trial occurred.

After April 2012, Foreste began using Hackney as a middle man to sell pills to Burlington area opoiod addicts. Foreste would mail the pills to Hackney using Skittles bags via the U.S. Mail system, until Hackney turned in Foreste to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) in June 2014, the Attorney General’s Office said. Evidence at the trial showed the drug scheme to have produced more than $500,000 in profit for Foreste which was laundered between the four accomplices using various bank accounts.

Foreste’s convictions and sentencing were the result of a multi-agency investigation and prosecution beginning back in mid-2014, spearheaded by Homeland Security Investigations.

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