US State Department will switch out its top diplomat in Havana

The U.S. State Department will appoint Timothy Zuniga Brown as the new charge d'affaires for its embassy in Havana, the Miami Herald has learned.

He will replace Mara Tekach, who in turn will take his current position as coordinator of the Department's Office of Cuban Affairs.

Diplomats on foreign missions usually rotate every few years.

State Department officials declined to comment on the change until the official announcement is released.

Zuniga Brown has a long experience on Cuban issues. He worked at the then U.S. Interest Section in Havana in the late 1990s. He later worked at the Office of Cuban Affairs before taking other diplomatic assignments in Ecuador, Mexico and the Bahamas.

Tekach, who has been in charge of the embassy since 2018, has overseen American diplomacy in a period of deteriorating relations between the two countries.

U.S. diplomats in Havana are usually attacked by Cuban propaganda, but she appears to have hit a nerve.

Unlike previous officials, who kept a low public profile, Tekach openly criticized the communist system on social media. Her support of the island's dissidents prompted an editorial in Granma, the Communist Party's official newspaper, in which she was accused of "recruiting mercenaries" and trying to discredit the government.

More recently, Tekach has been coordinating evacuation flights for U.S. citizens and residents who were stranded in Cuba due to the coronavirus pandemic.

—Miami Herald


Florida Gov. DeSantis avoids saying if virtual-only education would bring funding cuts

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and his education chief gave little assurance Wednesday that school districts will keep their state funding if they refuse to offer in-person instruction this fall.

Instead, DeSantis and Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran said they have full confidence that all school districts in the state will offer parents a choice of face-to-face instruction this fall — something South Florida school districts say they're not doing right away.

At a roundtable discussion at the Paul B. Stephens School in Clearwater, DeSantis was asked twice if school districts would lose state money if they go virtual only. He didn't directly answer the question.

He and Corcoran said in normal times districts would lose funding for going virtual. They cited a state law that requires students be in school for 900 hours — the equivalent of 180 days — per year.

But they said an emergency order issued by Corcoran this month gives districts the flexibility to offer virtual education to parents who want it. The order also instructs districts to offer in-person instruction, subject to health conditions permitting it. South Florida districts say a surge in COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths over the last month make it too dangerous to open right now.

"Had there not been an emergency order they would be much more likely to lose funding, because if you didn't meet the statutory requirements, that would happen automatically," DeSantis said.

DeSantis said districts have the flexibility to open a few weeks late if they need to, but the expectation is that in-person education is offered for parents who want it.

"I'm confident there's going to be in-person throughout the state. The flexibility of the timing we're going to leave that to the school district. I'd rather them take a little extra time and get it right," DeSantis said. "I don't think you're going have a school district in the state that is going virtual for the whole semester."

—Sun Sentinel


McCloskeys claim prosecutor used their case as part of reelection campaign

ST. LOUIS — Mark and Patricia McCloskey, the St. Louis couple charged with illegally pointing guns at protesters outside the couple's Portland Place home last month, are seeking to disqualify Circuit Attorney Kimberly M. Gardner from their case, claiming she exploited the confrontation for political gain.

The couple on Wednesday alleged Gardner highlighted the case in a campaign email to drum up support for her re-election bid for St. Louis circuit attorney.

Gardner is facing former assistant prosecutor Mary Pat Carl in the Democratic primary next week.

The McCloskeys' motion, filed by defense attorney Joel Schwartz, alleges Gardner's campaign emailed supporters on July 17 with references to their case. The McCloskeys were charged three days later.

"The July 17th email drew a direct line from the incident, which had not yet resulted in criminal charges, to Ms. Gardner's political antagonists, and from there to call for donations to further her re-election efforts," the McCloskeys' motion says.

Their motion seeks to disqualify all prosecutors in Gardner's office as well.

"She has indicated through her fundraising emails that she made the decision to initiate charges," the motion says. "A reasonable person would conclude that any member of the (circuit attorney's office) would know the importance the boss places on the case, and that this would color any assistant's decision-making process.

—St. Louis Post-Dispatch


Zimbabwe agrees to pay $3.5 billion to displaced white farmers

HARARE, Zimbabwe — Zimbabwe's government on Wednesday signed an agreement to pay $3.5 billion in compensation to white farmers whose land was expropriated during the long tenure of late former president Robert Mugabe.

President Emmerson Mnangagwa said the decision had been taken in line with the constitution in order to compensate the white farmers for "improvements" they made to the land — such as dams and others constructions — before being displaced.

Andrew Pascoe, the president of the Commercial Farmers Union of Zimbabwe, welcomed the agreement.

"After almost 20 years of conflict over the land issue, representatives of farmers who lost their land through the fast-track reform program and representatives of government have been able to come together to see a resolution of this conflict," said Pascoe.

"To me this is nothing short of a miracle — for me it has been a dream that I will see this day," said Pascoe, whose organization includes farmers driven off their land in the early 2000s.

The agreement stipulates that 50% of the $3.5 billion would be paid within 12 months of the day of signing, while the remainder would be paid within five years.

"This momentous occasion is historic in many respects — (it) brings both closure and a new beginning in the history of the land discourse in our country," Mnangagwa said.

An official at the union said more than 3,500 farmers have applied for compensation

Zimbabwe will issue long-term bonds and jointly approach international donors with the farmers to raise funding, the compensation agreement says.



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