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Baseball diplomacy re-emerges in tense U.S.-Cuban relations

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Members of Cuba’s baseball team told Reuters on Wednesday the U.S. embassy in Havana had started processing their applications for visas to attend the Americas Olympic qualifying tournament in Florida despite its restrictions on consular services, in a triumph of baseball diplomacy.

The U.S. embassy in Havana suspended consular services three years ago when the Trump administration reduced it to skeletal staffing, sending applicants to embassies abroad instead.

That has proven a major obstacle to Cubans applying for visas to see family or visit the United States, particularly during the coronavirus pandemic.

Cuban baseball fans have been worried their team might not receive the visas they need to compete in the qualifying tournament for the Tokyo Olympics. The tournament takes place in Florida’s West Palm Beach and Port St Lucie from May 31 to June 5.

But a Reuters witness saw a group of players and officials from the baseball team outside the embassy on Wednesday. Two players and a coach said they were there for their visa appointments, with some scheduled for others later in the week.

“I made my visa application and they interviewed me, now we need to wait for them to confirm I got the visa,” said catcher Ivan Prieto, 24, sporting a baseball cap from the national team.

The U.S. State Department did not immediately reply to request for comment on whether this was an exception or whether this was a sign it would start processing U.S. visas for Cubans in Havana.

“It’s really important for Cuba to be in the Olympics. It is one of the best-performing countries and it would be a real badge of honor,” said Prieto.

Cuba’s baseball team won the gold medal at the Olympics in Barcelona in 1992, Atlanta in 1996 and Athens in 2004. Baseball has not been featured at the Olympics though since 2008.

The administration of former U.S. President Donald Trump drew down staffing at the U.S. embassy in Havana after a spate of illnesses among diplomats that remain unexplained.

But as reports of similar incidents happening elsewhere trickle out, many analysts say the policy needs to be reviewed, not least because it hurts the Cuban people.

Cuban officials say the move was politically motivated, designed to contribute to worsening U.S.-Cuban relations. Trump had declared he wanted to end socialism in Latin America and force the Cuban Communist government to reform.

“It’s a good step that they are processing (the visas) here,” said first baseman Guillermo Aviles, 28.

Many Cubans hope that U.S. President Joe Biden, who took office in January, will restart consular services in Havana and re-establish official channels for U.S. remittances to Cuba.

Biden, a Democrat, vowed during his campaign to reverse policy shifts by the Republican Trump that “have inflicted harm on the Cuban people and done nothing to advance democracy and human rights.”

He was vice president when former President Barack Obama agreed to a historic detente with then Cuban President Raul Castro and in 2016, during a trip to Havana, attended an exhibition game between the Cuban national team and MLB’s Tampa Bay Rays with Castro.

However the Biden administration has said a shift in Cuba policy is not among its top foreign policy priorities.

In the Florida tournament, Cuba will face off in Group B against fellow baseball powers Venezuela, Canada and Colombia. Group A will see a playoff between the United States, the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico and Nicaragua.

“It will be difficult but not impossible (to classify)” said coach Carlos Marti, waiting in a park by the U.S. embassy for his interview with U.S. authorities. “Our pitchers have shown a good level.”

 

(Reporting by Nelson Acosta; Writing by Sarah Marsh; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)

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Hundreds more unmarked graves found at erstwhile Saskatchewan residential school

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An indigenous group in Saskatchewan on Thursday said it had found the unmarked graves of an estimated 751 people at a now-defunct Catholic residential school, just weeks after a similar, smaller discovery rocked the country.

The latest discovery, the biggest to date, is a grim reminder of the years of abuse and discrimination indigenous communities have suffered in Canada even as they continue to fight for justice and better living conditions.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he was “terribly saddened” by the discovery at Marieval Indian Residential School about 87 miles (140 km) from the provincial capital Regina. He told indigenous people that “the hurt and the trauma that you feel is Canada’s responsibility to bear.”

It is not clear how many of the remains detected belong to children, Cowessess First Nation Chief Cadmus Delorme told reporters, adding that oral stories mentioned adults being buried at the site.

Delorme later told Reuters some of the graves belong to non-indigenous people who may have belonged to the church. He said the First Nation hopes to find the gravestones that once marked these graves, after which they may involve police.

Delorme said the church that ran the school removed the headstones.

“We didn’t remove the headstones. Removing headstones is a crime in this country. We are treating this like a crime scene,” he said.

The residential school system, which operated between 1831 and 1996, removed about 150,000 indigenous children from their families and brought them to Christian residential schools, mostly Catholic, run on behalf of the federal government.

“Canada will be known as a nation who tried to exterminate the First Nations,” said Bobby Cameron, Chief of the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations, which represents 74 First Nations in Saskatchewan. “This is just the beginning.”

OLD WOUNDS

Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which published a report that found the residential school system amounted to cultural genocide, has said a cemetery was left on the Marieval site after the school building was demolished.

The local Catholic archdiocese gave Cowessess First Nation C$70,000 ($56,813) in 2019 to help restore the site and identify unmarked graves, said spokesperson Eric Gurash. He said the archdiocese gave Cowessess all its death records for the period Catholic parties were running the school.

In a letter to Delorme on Thursday, Archbishop Don Bolen reiterated an earlier apology for the “failures and sins of Church leaders and staff” and pledged to help identify the remains.

Heather Bear, who went to Marieval as a day student in the 1970s and is also vice-chief of the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations, recalled a small cemetery at the school but not of the size revealed on Thursday.

“You just didn’t want to be walking around alone in (the school),” she recalled. There was a “sadness that moves. And I think every residential school has that sadness looming.”

The Cowessess First Nation began a ground-penetrating radar search on June 2, after the discovery of 215 unmarked graves at the Kamloops Residential School in British Columbia outraged the country. Radar at Marieval found 751 “hits” as of Wednesday with a 10% margin of error, meaning at least 600 graves on the site.

The Kamloops discovery reopened old wounds in Canada about the lack of information and accountability around the residential school system, which forcibly separated indigenous children from their families and subjected them to malnutrition and physical and sexual abuse.

Pope Francis said in early June that he was pained by the Kamloops revelation and called for respect for the rights and cultures of native peoples. But he stopped short of the direct apology some Canadians had demanded.

Thursday was a difficult day, Delorme told Reuters. But he wants his young children to know “we will get the reconciliation one day with action like today.”

($1 = 1.2321 Canadian dollars)

(Reporting by Anna Mehler Paperny in Toronto and Moira Warburton in Vancouver; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama, Alistair Bell, Grant McCool and Daniel Wallis)

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Teamsters votes to fund and support Amazon workers

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The International Brotherhood of Teamsters, a labor union in the United States and Canada, said on Thursday it has voted to formalize a resolution to support and fund employees of Amazon.com Inc in their unionization efforts.

Amazon did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

(Reporting by Eva Mathews in Bengaluru; Editing by Arun Koyyur)

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Citigroup names new sales head for Treasury and Trade Solutions unit

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Citigroup Inc has named Steve Elms as the new sales head for the bank’s Treasury and Trade Solutions (TTS) unit effective immediately, according to an internal memo shared by a company spokesperson.

Elms, who will oversee the management of the global sales teams, has been involved with the bank’s TTS division for over 10 years, according to his LinkedIn profile.

TTS is a division of the bank’s Institutional Clients group. The segment offers cash management and trade services and finance to multinational corporations, financial institutions and public sector organizations around the world.

(Reporting by Niket Nishant in Bengaluru and David Henry in New York; Editing by Krishna Chandra Eluri)

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