Cuban Tourism: Are There Enough Beds?

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By Iván García in Translating Cuba

Cuban Tourism: Are There Enough Beds?

One month before their trip, José María, his wife and two sons from Valencia Spain made reservations through the internet for two rooms at the Hotel Riviera, which faces Havana’s seaside drive, the Malecón.

“There was no way to rent a car,” says José María as he sips papaya juice in the cafe of the Inglaterra hotel in the heart of Havana. “Our plan was to spend six days in the capital and a weekend in Varadero. Family friends had told us all about the island’s climate, its natural beauty and especially the people. But the reality was quite different.”

He lists the problems. “The airport was a nightmare. It was filthy, with a terrible odor, and getting through customs was impossibly slow. We could not rent a car at the terminal or in any part of the city. It cost us forty-five euros just to take a taxi to the hotel. The driver didn’t even turn on the taxi meter. The Riviera had reserved a room for us that had only three beds because they thought we were travelling with small children. There were no other rooms available. It was infested with roaches and the air conditioning barely worked,” notes the Spanish tourist.

The next morning they moved to the Inglaterra. “The service was just as bad and we had to change rooms twice,” says José María “In one room the water heater didn’t work and in another the TV was broken. And what you see outside the hotel is awful. Except for a portion of Old Havana, which is beautifully restored, the city is falling apart. Most people are friendly, but it’s frightening to see how many prostitutes and shady characters there are per square meter.”

The hotel at Varadero was better. “But the food in the ’all included’ plan was disgusting. The staff had no motivation. It was as though they were being punished,” says José María.

Experiences like those of this Spanish tourist and his family in Havana and Varadero occur often in Cuba. Tourism is the island’s third largest source of hard currency, behind the export of medical services and remittances from overseas.

In 2014 remittances totaled 2.7 billion dollars. Cuba has 62,000 hotel rooms and an additional 19,000 rooms in private homes and hostels.

After the surprise announcement of the restoration of diplomatic relations between Cuba and the United States in December of 2014, the influx of tourists grew dramatically. Estimates are that 3.5 million people will have visited Cuba by the end of 2015, an 18% increase over the previous year.

The regime is probably taking in more than 3.2 billion dollars. The outlook for tourism in Cuba is promising.

Projections are that 23,000 rooms will have been built by 2020. Gaviota, a corporation headed by military officials, alone plans to build 14,000. Currently, Gaviota is the fourth largest hotel chain in Latin America and is predicted to be the second largest in four years.

But the biggest challenge to the growth of tourism on the island is not a shortage of rooms. It is more an issue of poor management, lack of supplies, low productivity and lousy service.

Add to these problems an infrastructure that has not been adequately maintained. Ariel Terrero, a government journalist who reports on economic issues, wrote a short piece for Cubadebate on the shortcomings of the tourism industry in Cuba.

A university professor who specializes in tourism told Terrero that, in spite of the increase in the number of visitors, hotel occupancy is less than 60%. Why then are there no available rooms in what is currently peak season in Havana and Varadero?

It is a management issue. According to the reporter, a large number of rooms at the Havana Libre hotel are closed for renovation.

As Jorge, a receptionist, points out, “In hotels that have been in operation for at least ten years, fifteen to twenty percent of rooms are not being used because of repairs that take months to complete.”

Though the state has designated tourism a high-priority industry, the companies in charge of maintenance do not have the authority to import fittings, equipment or supplies.

“The money that the tourism sector brings in is controlled by the state. Hotels where there is a foreign partner or that are owned by reputable companies such as Melia operate with more independence,” says Sergio, the head of a resort maintenance crew. “The rest must get state authorization. And bureaucracy is so widespread that it takes up to ten months to repair the air conditioning or plumbing system for a group of rooms.”

Does Cuba have an adequate infrastructure to deal with a hypothetical growth of five million tourists in 2016 and 2017.

“I don’t think so,” says a former manager of the Gran Caribe corporation. “What happens is that in Cuba they only think about construction, not about allocating resources for future maintenance. A hotel is more than a room, breakfast and maybe a meal. These must be complemented with car rental services, high-speed internet, cultural programs within the facility and outside activities such as visits to museums, cabarets and historical sites.”

In a city like Havana — with bad roads that make it difficult to drive without GPS, without proper signaling at intersections, with few and slow internet connections and with a poor public transport system — the former director believes “it is difficult to get return visitors. Because the crux of this business is not to get people to come once; it is to get them to come back.”

If you go to sites like Tripadvisor, one of the things you notice is the large number of negative experiences reported by foreigners who have visited the island. Others like the Spanish tourist José María have already erased Cuba from their tourist maps.

Obama’s State of the Union wrong on Cuba policy

Via Capitol Hill Cubans:

Statement on Obama’s Final State of the Union

During tonight’s State of the Union address, President Obama said:

“Fifty years of isolating Cuba had failed to promote democracy, setting us back in Latin America. That’s why we restored diplomatic relations, opened the door to travel and commerce, and positioned ourselves to improve the lives of the Cuban people. You want to consolidate our leadership and credibility in the hemisphere? Recognize that the Cold War is over. Lift the embargo.”

First of all —

Far from setting us back in Latin America, the U.S.’s policy of isolating Cuba has successfully promoted democracy in the region. It’s for this reason that — after decades of military dictatorships — today 34 out of 35 countries in the Western Hemisphere are democracies. To the contrary, nothing harks back more to the Cold War than once again backing dictatorships in Latin America, as President Obama is now doing.

Moreover —

If diplomatic relations with Cuba have been “successful,” then why has the Castro regime refused to return a stolen U.S. Hellfire missile that it has in its possession, to extradite one of the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted Terrorists that it continues harboring and to return properties confiscated from American citizens?

As regards “the lives of the Cuban people,” here are the facts —

Since Obama’s new Cuba policy was announced on December 17th, 2014:

— Political arrests have intensified. There were over 8,616 political arrests in 2015, including 1,447 during the month of November, which is the highest recorded number in decades.

— Released political prisoners have been re-imprisoned. Over half of the 53 political prisoners released in the Obama-Castro deal have been re-arrested at some point, with five serving new long-term sentences.

— Cubans fleeing the island has skyrocketed. The number of Cuban fleeing the island has nearly doubled in 2015 compared to the previous year. We are currently facing the biggest migration of Cubans since the 1994 rafters crisis.

— The number of “self-employed” workers has decreased. There are nearly 10,000 less “self-employed” licensees in Cuba today than in 2014. Meanwhile, Castro’s military monopolies are expanding at record pace.

— Religious freedom has regressed. Last year alone, 2,000 churches were declared illegal and 100 were designated for demolition by the Castro regime.

Rubio Introduces Legislation To End Rampant Abuse Of Cuban Refugee Resettlement Benefits

From the offices of U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL):

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) today introduced “The Cuban Immigrant Work Opportunity Act of 2016” in the Senate, companion legislation to H.R. 4247, sponsored by Congressman Carlos Curbelo (R-FL-26), that would terminate the automatic eligibility for federal public assistance for Cuban nationals under the Refugee Resettlement Program, while maintaining it for those that have been persecuted that are in need of resettlement assistance. This bill addresses the well-documented abuses of federal benefits and safeguard American taxpayer funds.

“It is outrageous whenever the American people’s generosity is exploited,” said Rubio. “It is particularly outrageous when individuals who claim to be fleeing repression in Cuba are welcomed and allowed to collect federal assistance based on their plight, only to return often to the very place they claimed to be fleeing. The weaknesses in our current law not only allow the flow of American tax dollars into the Castro regime’s coffers, it also undermines the legitimate cause of those Cubans who are truly fleeing repression and political persecution. This is a first step to eliminate the loopholes and financial incentives that have been exploited for too long, while protecting U.S. taxpayers and preserving the original intent of the Cuban Adjustment Act and Refugee Resettlement Program, which is to afford refuge to Cubans truly fleeing persecution.

“The need to help those fleeing repression in Cuba has not changed given that, since the Obama Administration announced its counterproductive policy of normalization with Castro’s dictatorship, political arrests and repression have increased,” Rubio continued. “‘The Cuban Immigrant Work Opportunity Act’ will ensure that we continue assisting those fleeing political persecution in Cuba while working toward ending any abuse of American generosity. This is a strong first step, and I hope Congress will pass it this year.”

“I commend Senator Rubio for his courageous leadership on this issue,” said Curbelo. “The mass exodus of Cubans and widespread abuse of our refugee assistance programs are direct consequences of President Obama’s reckless Cuba policy. This legislation will ensure that only persecuted Cubans can receive refugee benefits, which are designated for those who cannot return to their countries, and will protect American taxpayers. America’s generosity should be honored and appreciated – never exploited or abused.”

A provision in the Refugee Education Assistance Act of 1980 allows Cuban immigrants, regardless of their reasons for leaving the island, access to the federal Refugee Resettlement Program. Unfortunately, recent reports indicate that this program has been grossly abused:

The South Florida Sun-Sentinel determined benefits to Cubans cost U.S. taxpayers more than $680 million a year, and found multiple examples of people living in Cuba and still collecting welfare, despite regulations prohibiting welfare recipients from collecting or using U.S. benefits in another country.

According to a South Florida Sun-Sentinel investigation, Cuba natives, operating primarily in South Florida, account for less than one percent of the U.S. population, but 41 percent of arrests nationwide for health care fraud.

The South Florida Sun-Sentinel also estimated the fraud and theft of Cubans breaking these regulations have cost American taxpayers and businesses more than $2 billion over two decades.

Rubio’s and Curbelo’s “Cuban Immigrant Work Opportunity Act of 2016” would ensure that only refugees and asylees remain eligible for the Refugee Resettlement Program. Furthermore, it holds the Obama Administration accountable to enforce its own regulations to ensure benefits are not being collected from ineligible individuals living abroad.

A PDF of the legislation is available here

Canadian tourist dies after 36 day Cuban healthcare nightmare

Via Winnipeg Free Press:

Oak Lake family reeling from Cuba tragedy, death of mother

By: Charles Tweed, The Brandon Sun

In one month, the Johnstons endured enough heartbreak to last a family a lifetime.

In the early hours of Dec. 29, Oak Lake’s Barbara Johnston, 54, died at the Brandon Regional Health Centre. While the exact cause of the fiercely proud mother’s death isn’t known, her last month was one fraught with frustration, anguish and stress.

On Nov. 20, Barbara and her husband John, like they had done so many times before, packed up their bags and flew to Cuba for a weeklong vacation.

Everything was going according to plan — sun, entertainment, food and drink —?through the first five days.

Then Barbara got sick.

“It was a 36-day nightmare after that,”?John recounted while sitting at the kitchen table with his sons Derek, 28, and Ryan, 25.

What started as vomiting soon turned dire at a resort. Then, in the middle of the night, John went to the front desk to request an ambulance or doctor be sent to the resort.

That night, Barbara was transferred to a small clinic on the Cayo Santa Maria island, where she was treated for septic shock. In the morning, when the clinic’s day staff arrived, John said the doctor made the decision she needed to be transferred to a mainland hospital in Santa Clara.

Cayo Santa Maria and Santa Clara are approximately 115 kilometres apart, including a 48-kilometre causeway.

After a two-hour ambulance ride with John by her side, Barbara was admitted to the Arnaldo Milian Castro Hospital in Santa Clara.

“It was shock when I got there with what the hospital was like,” John said. “The ER is scary as hell. When you’re on the island and the resorts are beautiful and what you see is all really nice, but you get into Santa Clara and it was a real shock.”

There was no running water, no antiseptic and no blankets, according to John. The hospital was open to the environment, the beds were stained and staff wore their street clothes in the intensive care unit.

Tears filled John’s eyes as he recounted having to watch his wife struggle to try to pull the ventilator tubes out of her lungs. While staff had sedatives at their disposal, doctors didn’t use enough and instead strapped Barbara’s arms to the hospital bed.

“I had to sit there for hours and watch her struggle,” John said, fighting through tears.

The following day, Derek and his younger brother Riley, 22, flew to Cuba to be by their mother’s side.

Riley, a paramedic in Manitoba, took over from his father at the hospital.

“It was frustrating watching and having enough of an idea that things weren’t being done properly,” said Riley, who spoke to The Brandon Sun following the meeting with John, Derek and Ryan.

“It’s hard enough to have a sick loved one and then to know they aren’t being treated properly. And knowing if you got her out of Cuba she would have gotten better care.”

The doctors relied on antiquated practices, according to Riley.

“The hospital doesn’t supply food,” he said. “When she was doing better they wanted to feed her, but they didn’t have feeding agent, so they wanted us to bring orange juice to pour down her feeding tube.”

Getting just hours of sleep a day, the family took turns being at Barbara’s side. However, a quirky rule at the hospital meant they could only change out during a 30-minute window at 7 a.m. or 7 p.m.

If they left the room for any reason, staff wouldn’t allow them back in. The rule meant they had about a 10-minute window to see each other each day and catch up on what was happening.

On Nov. 29, four days after the initial signs of illness, John and Derek decided to make a run back to the resort to pack up their things. They also needed to get John’s insulin after he packed just the bare necessities during the initial transfer.

It’s around this time the family really started to feel like they were on an island, literally and figuratively.

Continue reading HERE.

There Is No Doing Business in Cuba, Only with Cuba

By Dr. José Azel in PanAm Post:

There Is No Doing Business in Cuba, Only with Cuba

The Communist Island’s “Private Sector” Is a Farce

Under current arrangements between foreign companies and Cuba, the state pockets over 90 percent of a worker’s purported salaries. (Bruno Sanchez-Andrade Nuño)

First, let’s get the preposition right. All commentary regarding entering the Cuban market makes reference to investing “in” Cuba. But, when used as a preposition, “in” innocently indicates inclusion within a space or place.+

However, “in” is an insufficient and misleading preposition with reference to Cuban investments. Investing “in” Cuba is a naive expression that closes the eyes to the “with” character of those investments.+

The island is not like other foreign markets where the investor’s due diligence requires mostly investigating demographics, local market information, and maybe some political risks.+

Cuba is a totalitarian state. Investing in Cuba necessarily requires investing in partnership with the Cuban government, and more specifically with the Cuban military.+

It is thus much more precise to use the preposition “with”’ to denote “accompanied by.” Investing with Cuba, in association with the Cuban military, requires a much more rigorous due diligence.+

Investing “in” Cuba requires the investor to contend only with factors such as median income of US$20 per month, outdated internet, communication and information systems, an unfriendly business environment, violation of workers’ rights, widespread corruption, unreliable energy, outdated water and sewer systems, a crumbling infrastructure, a bankrupt economy, an awkward dual currency system, and much more.+

In addition, investing “with” Cuba requires foreign firms to accept being minority partners, with the Cuban government representing the controlling shareholder.+

Under this arrangement, the Cuban government expects foreign investments to generate revenues for the state on its terms. If the venture fails to meet the expectations of the state, it may arbitrarily terminate the agreement, and there is no independent judicial system to adjudicate any investor claims.+

It is also a mischaracterization to speak of a “private sector” in Cuba with the suggestion that such a sector exists as possible partners for US investors. There is no private sector in Cuba in the sense that we use that term in free-market economies.+

The so-called self-employed (cuentapropistas) in Cuba are not equivalent to a private sector. These are individuals whom the state has granted permission to operate in one of 201 highly specified domestic trade activities and under very restricted conditions.+

They do not have legal standing as would a sole proprietorship, partnership, or corporation in the United States. It is therefore very misleading to speak of a private sector in Cuba.+

Let’s take just one aspect of doing business “with” Cuba to illustrate how it offends our values and morality, our labor and business laws, and our expectations of corporate behavior.+

Foreign investors operating on the island cannot hire their own employees. The foreign firm must negotiate with the Labor Ministry a “contract for the supply of its labor force,” indicating the quantity and qualifications of needed employees.+

The state staffing agency for foreign enterprises then sends its pre-screened personnel to the foreign firm. The foreign employer pays directly to the staffing agency in foreign currency, or equivalent Cuban convertible pesos (CUC). The staffing agency then pays Cuban workers in non-convertible national Cuban pesos (CUP).+

Under this arrangement, the state pockets over 90 percent of the worker’s purported salaries.+

This practice is a form of slavery that violates International Labor Organization conventions. Cuban writer Carlos Alberto Montaner has aptly named it: Cuba, the pimp state. It is a repugnant practice that would expose participating US companies to public scorn and endless litigation.

Continue reading HERE.

Happy Birthday Maestro Aurelio de la Vega

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I recently had the very great pleasure of attending a Verdi Chorus concert dedicated to my friend, Maestro Aurelio de la Vega in honor of his milestone 90TH birthday. I can only describe this wonderful man as a gift, truly a treasure. It is an honor to know him.

A short biography via The Verdi Chorus:

Aurelio de la Vega – Composer and Musicologist

Aurelio de la Vega was born in La Habana, Cuba, on November 28, 1925 and became an American citizen in 1966. Since the early 60s he has been an important force in the United States and in the Latin American musical scene.
After studying with Ernst Toch in California (1947-1948) he occupied relevant positions in his native land (Dean, School of Music, University of Oriente; Adviser, National Institute of Culture; Vice-President, Havana Philharmonic Orchestra), toured the United States as lecturer (1952-1954) and settled in Los Angeles in 1959, where he has been very active as composer and lecturer. Other positions held include those of Past-President of the Cuban National Music Council (UNESCO), 1950-1956; Past-Treasurer of the Cuban Section of the Inter-American Music Association (Caracas), 1952-1959; Past-Second Vice-President of the Inter-American Music Center (Organization of American States, Washington, D.C.), 1952-1958; Past-President of the Los Angeles Chapter of the National Association of Composers, U.S.A., 1964-1968; Past-Chairman of the West Coast Branch of the United States Section of the International Society for Contemporary Music, 1965-1972, and Visiting Professor of Music at the University of Rio de Janeiro (Fulbright Research Award, Washington-Rio de Janeiro), 1985. He was Visiting Professor at the University of Southern California during the summer of 1959. From 1959 to 1992 he was Professor of Music and Director of the Electronic Music Studio at California State University, Northridge. In 1971 he was awarded the Outstanding Professor Award of the entire California State University system. At present, he is a Distinguished Emeritus Professor of said University, and is a Member of the Academy of Arts and Letters of Chile, and of the Brazilian Academy of Music.
He has lectured extensively in Cuba, the United States, Mexico, Puerto Rico, Venezuela, Brazil, Canada, Spain, Argentina and Chile, mainly on contemporary music, on electronic music and on the art of Latin America. His list of compositions (many published and many commercially recorded, almost all commissioned works from 1962 on) include symphonic pieces, chamber music, solo piano, solo instruments with tape, song cycles, cantatas, ballet music, solo guitar and electronic music works. His compositions have been played by major orchestras, ensembles, important soloists and singers in numerous cities of Cuba, the United States, Europe, Israel, South America, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Mexico, South Africa, Japan, Puerto Rico and India. Many of his works have been commercially recorded on Panart, Orion, Avant, Crystal, Opus One, North/South Consonance, Labor, Vienna Modern Masters, Tapa, Centaur, Raptoria Caam, Musicians Showcase, and Universidade Río Grande do Sul Recordings (Brazil).
The recipient of numerous prizes, commissions, awards and distinctions, among them, Virginia Colliers Chamber Music Award (Washington, 1955), Andrew Mellon Fellowship (University of Pittsburg, 1963), Distinguished Professor Award (California State University, Northridge, 1974), Friedheim Award of the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts (Washington, 1978 and 1984), City of Los Angeles Commendation (Office of the Mayor,1978 and 1993), California State Senate Commendation (Sacramento, 1979), Creativity Award (California State University, Northridge, 1984 and 1991), Council of the City of Los Angeles Resolution Honoring Maestro Aurelio de la Vega (Los Angeles, 1995), Certificate of Recognition (City of Los Angeles Cultural Affairs Department, Los Angeles, 2000) and FACE (Facts About Cuban Exiles)Award (Miami, 2000). His Variación del Recuerdo (“Variation of the Remembrance”), for string orchestra (1999) received a Latin Grammy nomination in 2009. In 2010 he received the Warren Lifetime Achievement Award from the Cintas Foundation.
Commissioning of works include those extended by the Coolidge Foundation of the Library of Congress (Washington, 1962), the Third Inter-American Music Festival (Washington, 1963), the Third Caracas International Music Festival (Caracas, 1965), the Los Angeles philharmonic Orchestra (1977), the Klimt Foundation (Sidney, 1981), the American Chamber Symphony (Los Angeles, 1983), the University of California at San Diego (La Jolla, 1985), the Sociedad de Música de Cámara de Zaragoza (Zaragoza, 1987), the Buenos Aires Encounters of Contemporary Music (Buenos Aires, 1990), the Culver City Chamber Orchestra (Culver City, 1998), and the Moldenhauer Foundation of the Library of Congress (Washington, 2006), in addition to patrons, singers and instrumentalists.
He has received honors and decorations from various governments (Medal of the Order of Sociedad Económica de Amigos del País, Republican Cuba, 1956; Medal of the Order of Eloy Alfaro, Colombia, 1961; Medal of the Order of the Sun, Peru, 1969; Medal of the Order of Vicente Emilio Sojo, Venezuela, 1985) for his contributions to Latin American art music. He is also a well-known essayist on the pictorial art of Latin America.

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Miami Dade College Professor Ricardo Pau-Llosa interviews Cuban Composer Aurelio de la Vega and filmmaker Camilo Vila. Mr. Vila produced and directed a documentary about the life of Aurelio de la Vega, Aurelio: Rebel With a Cause, available at Amazon.


Babalú has previously celebrated Doctor de la Vega, HERE, HERE, and in 2008, BabaluBlog Radio Hour was thrilled to host special guest Dr. Aurelio de la Vega.

The New York Times endorses slavery for Cubans

Once again the fact that Cuban workers sent abroad are nothing more than modern day slaves, is exposed. Cuba’s slave trade in doctors program, and the U.S. Cuban Medical Professionals Parole Program has collided in Columbia, providing more evidence that the administration’s stated concern for human rights in Cuba is a lie.

Via Front Page Magazine:

PRO-CASTRO OBAMA REFUSES TO TAKE IN CUBAN DOCTORS SEEKING ASYLUM
The New York Times endorses slavery
By Daniel Greenfield

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If you’re an El Salvadorian gang member, Obama will set you loose on your own, until you kill someone. If you’re a Cuban doctor, good luck.

The New York Times and other pro-Castro media outlets have been pushing to deny asylum to Cuban doctors. Because apparently it’s “cruel” to interfere with the Communist dictatorship’s influence building by letting doctors claim asylum.

Apparently according to liberals, Cuban doctors are human chattel, slaves, who should be viewed as Castro’s property even outside Cuba. And Obama is following that script.

[. . .]

Here’s the slavery that liberals at the New York Times believe the human chattel of the Castro regime should be subjected to.

Discel Rodriguez, a 42-year-old nurse, said he was forced to live with five other doctors in confined quarters. They had a 6 p.m. curfew and were discouraged from making friends in the community.

“At least in Cuba you could live in a house with the people that you cared about,” he said. “But Venezuela was punishment — it was a prison.”

Annie Rodriguez, a 29-year-old rehabilitation specialist, was sent to the Venezuelan town of Ospino, about 240 miles southwest of the capital. There, she shared a room with three other doctors. They put up a cardboard wall for privacy from their male roommates.

“The house had a dirt floor, there wasn’t a kitchen or a bathroom,” she said. “When it flooded we’d have to put our luggage on the bed.”

In April 2014, she discovered she was pregnant — a violation of her contract. It meant she would be sent back to the island and stripped of the salary that had been deposited for her there.

She borrowed money from her mother and finally made it to the U.S. Embassy in Bogotá seven months pregnant. On Dec. 9, however, her asylum request was rejected. She said the shock of the news sent her into labor.

Internacionalistas are given modest stipends but the bulk of their salary is held in Cuba. When they’re sent home early — as he was being threatened with — they’re denied even those modest savings.

This is what the New York Times and Obama endorse. Maybe it’s what they want for America.

Continue reading HERE.

Visual Artists Guild: United States a collaborator of repression in Cuba

Via Ann Lau, Chair, Visual Artists Guild, a supporter of Human Rights in Cuba, who has been instrumental in bringing Cuban and Chinese dissidents together, released the following on Secretary Kerry’s statement in Havana.

Press Release: Opening of US Embassy in Cuba
For Immediate Release

Visual Artists Guild welcomes Secretary of State, John Kerry’s statement yesterday at the opening of the United States Embassy in Cuba in which he stated, “We remain convinced the people of Cuba would be best served by a genuine democracy, where people are free to choose their leaders, express their ideas and practice their faith.”
However, words must also be aligned with actions. Visual Artists Guild is disappointed in Secretary Kerry’s failure to invite Ms. Berta Soler, leader of the activists group Damas de Blanco (Ladies in White) to the opening ceremony.
This failure of Secretary Kerry contrasts glaringly with the February 1989 visit to China by President Bush during which the Chinese dissident physicist Fang Lizhi was invited to the U.S. embassy reception to meet with the President. While China’s security personnel forcibly and successfully prevented Fang from entered the the embassy, it created international news and exposed China’s reality to the world.
The Ladies in White is a group of women with support from others has been protesting every Sunday after mass since 2003. Dressed in white, a symbol of peace, they silently press for the release of their husbands and loved ones.
Despite the rapprochement, the Ladies in White has been harassed, beaten, imprisoned almost weekly since the announcement of rapprochement in December, 2014.
In fact, as early as 10 days ago, Cuban rocker, Gorki Aguila, was arrested for attending a Ladies in White march and for authoring a song in honor of The Ladies in White. Aguila was later released. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OHvmaOTKIuo
Visual Artists Guild calls on President Obama, Secretary of State John Kerry, to bring out the current repression against the Ladies in White and their supporters by the Cuban government. The silence by the United States government in fact makes the U.S. a collaborator of repression in Cuba.

Ann Lau
Chair, Visual Artists Guild

WaPo: The U.S. outrageously snubs Cuban dissidents

The Washington Post:

The U.S. Outrageously Snubs Cuban Dissidents
By Editorial Board

THE AMERICAN flag is a powerful symbol of the country’s long and noble struggle to defend the values of freedom and democracy. When Secretary of State John F. Kerry raises it over the U.S. embassy in Cuba on Friday, the ceremony will mark an end to a half-century of hostility between the two nations. President Obama has gambled that establishing normal relations with Cuba — commerce, information, culture and “soft power” — is the best way to change the isolated island, still in the grip of the Castro brothers and their sclerotic revolution.

What’s unfortunate about the scenario planned for Havana is that Mr. Kerry has decided to omit the very people in Cuba who embody the values that the American flag represents: human dignity, the wisdom of the individual above the state and free access to basic rights of expression in speech, assembly and thought. These people — the dissidents in Cuba who have fought tirelessly for democracy and human rights, and who continue to suffer regular beatings and arrests — will not be witnesses to the flag-raising. They were not invited.

The official U.S. explanation for excluding the dissidents is that the flag-raising ceremony is a government-to-government affair. This is lame. Inviting the dissidents would be a demonstration to Raúl and Fidel Castro of what the flag stands for: people freely choosing their leaders, a pluralism of views and a public engaging in the institutions and traditions of a healthy civil society. Not inviting them is a sorry tip of the hat to what the Castros so vividly stand for: diktat, statism, control and rule by fear.

It would not have been hard to find witnesses to this turning point who have been muzzled and physically injured in their quest to be heard: dissidents Jorge Luis García Pérez and Antonio Rodiles, the blogger Yoani Sánchez, members of the Ladies in White, to name just a few. Mr. Kerry offers to meet with some of them separately, out of public view. It is insulting and acquiesces in the Castros’ desire that the dissidents be hidden away.

In a sense, the “government-to-government” excuse exemplifies what has been wrong in Mr. Obama’s outreach from the start. Engagement could help spark change in Cuba; most Cuban democrats agree. But it won’t happen automatically: Just look at China, with its capitalism and wealth blended with increasingly repressive rule.

Mr. Obama could have designed an engagement policy that made room for human rights and its courageous advocates, as he once promised them he would do. Instead, he’s bestowed all legitimacy on a government that can claim none in its own right — that rules through force, and not the consent of the governed. Maybe Mr. Kerry can at least leave an empty chair at the ceremony to symbolize the people, and the values, that will be kept outside the fence.

Díaz-Balart Condemns Yet Another Shameful Capitulation to the Castro Regime

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:

August 14, 2015

Diaz-Balart Condemns Yet Another Shameful Capitulation to the Castro Regime


MIAMI – Congressman Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL) released the following statement after reports that the Obama administration chose to exclude Cuban pro-democracy leaders from the ceremony with Secretary Kerry at the U.S. post in Havana.

“That a U.S. Secretary of State would sideline Cuba’s pro-democracy activists simply to avoid offending their oppressors is unthinkable. In Cuba, pro-democracy and human rights activists strive each day, at grave personal risk, to achieve freedom for the Cuban people. It is shameful that President Obama and Secretary Kerry have stooped so low as to publicly choose the Castro regime over the Cuban people, and exclude Cuba’s brave leaders from a U.S.-hosted event at our post in Havana. Our U.S. mission in Cuba has always been a welcoming haven and symbol of liberty for those struggling for freedom in the midst of tyranny. The U.S. must remain unequivocal in its support for democracy, human rights and essential liberties, which necessarily includes standing by those struggling to achieve them.”

###

Cuban Dissidents Reject Kerry’s Insulting Second-Fiddle Offer

I’m glad to see this dignified response, how dare dare Kerry treat them so shabbily, although we are not surprised. Obama’s new Cuba policy is based on lies and a treacherous betrayal of Cuba’s dissidents, including outright lying to their face Obama told them that any U.S.action on Cuba “would be consulted with civil society and the nonviolent opposition.”

Via Capitol Hill Cubans:

Cuban Dissidents Reject Kerry’s Insulting Second-Fiddle Offer

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry told media outlets yesterday that the reason why Cuban dissidents aren’t invited to the flag-raising ceremony at the new U.S. Embassy in Havana is because there isn’t enough space.

What a pathetic — and untrue — excuse.

The courtyard of the U.S. Embassy in Havana is easily four to five times the size of the Cuban Embassy’s in Washington, D.C.

Yet, the latter invited over 500 guests to its flag-raising ceremony, including their lobbyists, apologists and a Code Pink delegation to party outside.

The real reason why Kerry is not inviting Cuban dissidents to the flag-raising event is because the Castro regime doesn’t want them there — and the Obama Administration has shamefully acquiesced.

In other words, the Obama Administration is (once again) lowering our standards to raise the flag.

Instead, Kerry has offered to meet Cuban dissidents “in a closet” of the Ambassador’s residence afterwards.

This morning, Berta Soler of The Ladies in White and Antonio Rodiles of Estado de Sats, who have been leading the courageous Sunday demonstrations against the Castro regime (in the face of rising violence and repression), rejected Kerry’s insulting second-fiddle offer.

The image of the flag-raising ceremony at the Embassy will be of the U.S. standing side-by-side with the oppressors of the Cuban people.

It will forever be captioned — “No dissent is allowed.”

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Ileana Ros-Lehtinen: Kerry’s Visit to Havana Another Stop on Capitulation Tour

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PRESS RELEASE

August 13. 2015

Kerry’s Visit to Havana to Inaugurate American Embassy Another Stop On His Capitulation Tour, Says Ros-Lehtinen

Miami, FL – Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R – FL), Chairman of the Subcommittee on the Middle East and North Africa, made the following statement regarding Secretary of State John Kerry’s visit to Havana today to inaugurate the American embassy in Cuba. Statement from Ros-Lehtinen:

“John Kerry’s presence in Havana on his global capitulation tour is yet another example of the Obama administration’s desire to pursue deals at any cost. While the Castro brothers will roll out the red carpet for Secretary Kerry, the people of Cuba will continue to be met with violence and detentions. While Secretary Kerry just changes the sign on the door at our post, he purposefully forgets that the Castro regime tries to prevent the people of Cuba from even reaching our building. While political prisoners languish in Castro’s gulags, Secretary Kerry will be shaking hands with their oppressor. The arrest of more than 100 pro-democracy leaders just days before Kerry’s visit should provide proof enough that the Castro regime has no intention of changing, so why should our policies change?

From a dangerous Iran deal to being weak against North Korea to giving in to the demands of the Castro brothers, this administration has demonstrated it imposes no moral bar to negotiating with tyrannical regimes. It is a shame we continue to give away so much in exchange for nothing since the White House was unable to ensure democratic freedoms for the people of Cuba, the return of fugitives from American justice, or compensation for illegally confiscated properties. Our country stands for so much more than the pittance it has accepted from the Castro regime.”

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An open letter to John Kerry, Secretary of State

Via The Sun-Sentinel:

An open letter to John Kerry, Secretary of State

Dear Sec. Kerry:

Friday you are scheduled to embark on the first visit by an American Secretary of State to Cuba in 70 years.

That visit was by then Secretary of State Edward Stettinius and was a celebratory visit. The United States was close to winning the World War II, and Cuba had been its first ally in the Western Hemisphere.

The one prior to that was from Secretary of State Cordell Hull, and it lasted 13 days from July 19 to Aug. 1, 1940.

These two visits were bookends to a world war. Friday, you travel with much ballyhoo to raise the American flag at the re-opening of the American Embassy in Havana.

As television station KTLA in Los Angeles said: “A Cuban delegation of diplomats, artists and veterans of the revolution were to commemorate the breakthrough with about 500 guests and more than likely down a few celebratory mojitos and shots of Havana Club rum.”

Unbelievable Mr. Secretary! This is a disgrace.

Your predecessors went to visit America’s first ally in the Western Hemisphere during the United States’ time of need. You go to raise a flag and down a few mojitos.

All this is fine and refined for a French-speaking diplomat who represents a president who wants his legacy to show he re-established diplomatic relations with Cuba despite all the obstacles Cuban President Raul Castro could put in his path.

Since the Dec. 17 announcement, Castro has said the Cuban communist government will not change. It’s iron grip on all dollar producing businesses will continue, as will its repressive policies of beating up and arresting anyone who dares dissent from the regime.

Certainly some of your assistants may have told you that since President Obama made his historic announcement, the Cuban government has made it a point to increase its repressive measures against those in opposition to the regime.

Verifiable reports out of Cuba say the government and its squad of goons have doubled the number of dissidents beaten, harassed and imprisoned — anyone who dares say they want a democratic regime with free elections, freedom of expression and freedom from a totalitarian government that monitors every one of their moves.

What say you, Mr. Secretary, to these human rights abuses?

At some point during the last six plus months, I recall there was a weak statement from a State Department spokesman saying how disappointed the United States was by the human rights abuses in Cuba.

Baloney, Mr. Secretary!

And please pardon my lack of diplomacy.I am a simple journalist who was born in Cuba, who came to this country 55 years ago and love both countries with all my heart.

That is why I cry today, Mr. Secretary!

I cry because you have not given any indication that you will meet with any of the dissidents in Cuba.

You do not have what it takes to do honor to the many secretaries of state who have preceded you that defended the principles this country stands for in the face of enemy representatives.

And do not doubt it, Mr. Secretary. Cuba is a sworn enemy of the United States. If it can help Iran, it will. Russia is already readying itself to open “monitoring” facilities in the island.

Yet your president and you have taken it upon yourselves to shake hands, raise a flag and have a few drinks with 500 Cuban dignitaries. Maybe the five convicted spies will be in attendance. Be sure to shake their hands. also.

At this point Mr. Secretary there is only one thing you can do to avoid making this trip the disaster that it already is. You could, if you truly believe in the principles of what our founding fathers said in Philadelphia more than 200 years ago, demand to see the Cuban dissidents.

Go shake hands with them and say that freedom-loving Americans believe in their cause. Give them hope for a better tomorrow. Show them that the United States truly is looking for a day when Cuba will be a democracy again.

Sincerely,

Guillermo Martinez, a Cuban-born, American citizen. One who loves both countries with all his heart.

Guillermo I. Martínez lives in South Florida. Guimar123@gmail.com

Continue reading HERE.

U.S. Cuba Policy: Good words from Jay Nordlinger

Ditto Jay, especially what he writes about our friend Mauricio Claver-Carone.

Via National Review Corner:

Cuba (A Few, Weak Words)

“Cuban dissidents, so long the center of U.S. policy toward the island, won’t be invited to Secretary of State John Kerry’s historic flag-raising at the U.S. Embassy in Havana on Friday, vividly illustrating how U.S. policy is shifting focus to its single-party government.” So begins an Associated Press report.

Understandably, several people have asked me to comment on this. I’m afraid I can’t. I mean, I’ve been commenting — and interviewing and reporting and analyzing — for many years. I’m afraid I’m about spent.

Do you get the impression that the Obama administration is warmer toward the Castro dictatorship than it is toward its opponents and victims? I do. And if that makes me a McCarthyite, so be it.

Over the weekend, about 90 dissidents were arrested in Cuba. (Read about it here.) This is par for the course — but repression has increased since Obama declared his opening right after the midterm elections in the U.S. (They don’t have elections in Cuba — not democratic ones.) Some of the dissidents were wearing an Obama mask. They did not mean that in a complimentary way.

I damn myself for being tired. I once said to my friend Mauricio Claver-Carone, “How can you get up every day and do battle with these apologists and propagandists and liars?” (He is a Cuban-American democracy activist, who mans the website Capitol Hill Cubans. He is a scourge of the Castros and their defenders.) He responded with the slogan of Leopoldo López, the Venezuelan oppositionist who is a guest in the chavistas’ jails: “El que se cansa, pierde” — “He who tires, loses.”

I’m not tired. I’m just resting for a second in anticipation of future bursts and blasts . . .

P.S. Mauricio has written about the recent arrests here. Not only were these people arrested, they of course had the hell beaten out of them, which is how the Castroites roll.

P.P.S. You know who never tires? Democracy leaders on the island. Through beatings and imprisonment and torture — and betrayal at the hands of people in the Free World — they keep going. It’s almost a miracle.

P.P.P.S. For years, democracy has been in bad odor in America. The Left doesn’t like it, of course — their heart beats for the Castros, the chavistas, the can-do Chinese Communist Party, and others. And significant elements on the right don’t like it, because democracy smacks of George W. Bush and “neocons” and war and general ickiness. But it’s extremely important, democracy. Ask those who don’t have it.

Continue reading HERE.

Kerry to Shun Cuban Dissidents From Embassy Event

Via Capitol Hill Cubans:

Kerry to Shun Cuban Dissidents From Embassy Event

Supporters of Obama’s Cuba policy should be very proud of themselves.

In October 2014, we had warned:

“If relations with Cuba were normalized, the United States might occasionally raise the issue of human rights and democracy rhetorically — but in practice it would be relegated to the bottom of the agenda.”

And now, that’s exactly what’s happening.

The Obama Administration has completely lost its moral compass.

Think of the poor example this sets for other nations.

Is this how the international community will “press” the Castro regime on democracy and rights, as the Obama Administration contends?

In a nutshell, here’s what “change looks like” in Obama’s Cuba policy — Castro si, disidentes no.

From AP:

Cuba dissidents won’t attend US Embassy event

The Obama administration doesn’t plan to invite Cuban dissidents to Secretary of State John Kerry’s historic flag-raising at the U.S. Embassy in Havana on Friday, vividly illustrating how U.S. policy is shifting focus from the island’s opposition to its single-party government. Instead, Kerry intends to meet more quietly with prominent activists later in the day, officials said.

The Cuban opposition has occupied the center of U.S. policy toward the island since the nations cut diplomatic relations in 1961. The Cuban government labels its domestic opponents as traitorous U.S. mercenaries. As the two countries have moved to restore relations, Cuba has almost entirely stopped meeting with American politicians who visit dissidents during trips to Havana.

Their presence at the embassy would have risked setting back the new spirit of cooperation the U.S. hopes to engender, according to the officials, who weren’t authorized to speak publicly about internal planning and demanded anonymity. But not meeting them at all, they said, would send an equally bad signal.

Key dissidents told the AP late Tuesday that they had not received invitations to any of Friday’s events.

Dissident Yoani Sanchez’s online newspaper 14ymedio has received no credential for the U.S. embassy event, said editor Reinaldo Escobar, who is married to Sanchez.

“The right thing to do would be to invite us and hear us out despite the fact that we don’t agree with the new U.S. policy,” said Antonio Rodiles, head of the dissident group Estado de SATS.

The cautious approach is consistent with how Obama has handled the question of support for dissidents since he and Castro announced a prisoner swap in December and their intention to create a broader improvement in relations. The process has resulted in unilateral steps by Obama to ease the economic embargo on Cuba and last month’s formal upgrading of both countries’ interests sections into full-fledged embassies.

When senior diplomat Roberta Jacobson held talks in Havana in January, she met several government critics at the end of her historic trip but was restrained in her criticism of the government. Since then, American politicians have flooded Havana to see the sights, meet the country’s new entrepreneurs and discuss possibly ending the U.S. embargo with leaders of the communist government.

According to an Associated Press count that matches tallies by leading dissidents, more than 20 U.S. lawmakers have visited Cuba since February without meeting the opposition groups that were once obligatory for congressional delegations.

Tragically, rather than being on their side:

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The Obama Administration is now on his side:

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Note via @CapitolCubans – AP title misleading. Cuban dissidents were not invited by Obama Administration.