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The South Florida Roundup

Some sanctions on Cuba lifted, historic settlement reached for Surfside victims, and phase two in the Cruz trial begins

A Cuban barber shaves a customer at his privately owned shop in Havana.
Desmond Boylan
A Cuban barber shaves a customer at his privately owned shop in Havana.

Last week the Biden Administration announced a lifting of some Trump-era sanctions placed on Cuba. It includes reviving the Cuban Family Reunification Parole Program and processing up to 20,000 immigration visas to the United States each year.

The State Department said that there are 22,000 applications that have not been acted upon in the past five years.

Miami activist Niubis Robaina says family members have been stuck in immigration limbo for nearly 5 years due to some of the policies that are now being reversed.

Other lifted sanctions include expanding flights beyond Havana and relaxing the ban on remittances, which are funds sent by migrants to their home country.

This policy change follows a decision by the U.S. Treasury Department to allow direct U.S. investment in a private Cuban business— that hasn’t happened since the Castro revolution began 63 years ago.

WLRN's Americas Editor Tim Padgett said these policies are being resumed because the Biden Administration now feels comfortable staffing theU.S. embassy in Havana again after the alleged sonic attacks five years ago.

Luis Zuñiga, a member of the Assembly of the Cuban Resistance, said some of the measures are understandable— others are not. He also said that when it comes to the 20,000 unprocessed visas, that quota has already been filled by the migrants entering the U.S. over the past five years.

"That quota is a privilege for Cubans," he said. "We don't understand why, above every country in Latin America, why is Cuba preferred?"

He also believes that until the Cuban regime cooperates with the investigation on the alleged sonic attacks 5 years ago, the reissuance of visas should not happen.

Guennady Rodriguez, editor of 23 Y Flagler, said he needs to see what the Cuban policies and American policies will do to benefit the Cuban people. He doesn't think that the resumption of the reunification program will benefit Cubans immensely, but he does agree that families should not be apart.

$997 million settlement reached for families of Surfside victims

For the families of the victims of Surfside, a proposed settlement has been reached— almost $1 billion dollars. If approved, it would make the class action lawsuit the second largest settlement in state history.

Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Michael Hanzman says his decision on what they each get will be final, and he wants people to receive their money by September.

The road isn't clear just yet.

On Tuesday, the beachfront property will be auctioned off.

One of the defendants in the lawsuit, the city of Surfside, okayed its portion of the proposed settlement. The town’s insurance company will pay $2 million to families and victims.

The money for the settlement comes from a number of sources: The insurers of a security company for Champlain South, a law firm that represented the condo association, the developers of a condo building next door and more.

However, none of this means that they are admitting any guilt.

On Tuesday, families of the victims will receive time in court to explain the value of their family members.

"This is already going to be a difficult process because they will not all get the same amount of money, and they have to argue what is the value of a human life," said WLRN's Health Care reporter Verónica Zaragovia.

Associated Press reporter Curt Anderson said the judge was amazed and surprised at the settlement, but not completely because the lawyers have truly been trying to work together to make sure the families get something out of this.

In the wake of such human tragedy, the families have to fill out a form detailing the age and occupation of their loved ones to determine their "worth."

Anderson said this has happened before, namely after 9/11. Kenneth Feinberg had to do this same thing.

"What is a CEO's life worth vs. a janitor? Everyone is a valuable life, however there are different places you have to go with that," he said. "It's not easy, but there is some logic to it, sadly."

Zaragovia said she's heard a wide range of reactions from the families. Some families have expressed major relief that the court process is nearing the end because it's a major opening of the wound each time the process continues.

Others don't see the settlement as closure but instead want to get to the bottom of the building's collapse.

This is a civil lawsuit. This is not about allocating blame or responsibility, but instead honing on the financial repercussions.

Anderson said it may be another year before we can really find out what happened. All of that has yet to be decided.

Several bills were presented in the legislative session to address the Champlain Towers collapse, but none of them made it through. Anderson said it's up to the cities and counties to deal with this on their own.

"It may not work that well, and it may happen again, sadly," he said.

Phase two for Nikolas Cruz trial begins

The effort to find people to decide if Nikolas Cruz lives or dies entered a new stage this week in Broward County. Jury selection in the death penalty trial of the Parkland shooting began its second phase on Monday.

The first round focused on scheduling conflicts, such as questioning juries on their ability to take off of work for six months.

"Now, the second round will focus on questioning jurors, at about 40 at a time, on their feelings towards the death penalty," said Gerard Albert III, WLRN's Broward County Reporter.

"The state's questioning has always been along the lines of, can you listen to both sides of an argument, and if you are convinced will you vote for the death penalty," he said.

The defense's line of questioning has been focused on asking if jurors believe in the defense penalty and trying to hone in on their beliefs about it.

The defense is looking for jurors that do not believe in the death penalty for religious or other reasons but say they will follow the law. The state, on the other hand, is looking for jurors who are okay with the death penalty.

Right now, there are under 400 jurors returning for the second phase, and the judge is trying to whittle that down to about 100 jurors for the final phase.

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Natu Tweh is WLRN's Morning Edition Producer. He also reports on general news out of South Florida.