Travel Warning for Vacationing Americans

Turks and Caicos

I just caught this report on Facebook and thought with vacation season upon us, I would pass it along…

Concerned about the recent arrests of two vacationing Americans in the Turks and Caicos Islands on gun-related charges, U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson is calling for authorities in the British-dependent territory to properly investigate the matter.

Nelson also said vacationing Americans need to be much more vigilant in keeping an eye on their luggage when traveling, and make sure they register with the U.S. embassy when traveling abroad.

On April 25 and 26, Turks and Caicos Royal Police charged Texas businesswoman Cathy Sulledge-Davis, 60, and retired neurosurgeon Horace Norrell, 80, of Sarasota, with carrying ammunition as they were departing the country at the Providenciales International Airport. There was no gun found in either case. The two were arrested and eventually allowed to return home after paying $4,000 in cash bail.

Nelson called the circumstances surrounding the arrests “unusual” and “mysterious,” and said he hopes Americans are not being preyed upon in a nefarious scheme.

“If I were the Turks and Caicos and knowing that my main source of income is American tourists, the last thing in the world is they need some kind of scheme that is shaking down Americans,” Nelson said. “What that will do is dry up their tourism if in fact this continues.”

Late this week , Nelson and Republican Texas Sen. Ted Cruz wrote to the U.S. Embassy in Nassau, Bahamas, which has responsibility for the Turks and Caicos Islands, asking if there have been other arrests of Americans on similar charges. The letter also asked U.S. Charge d’Affaires John Dinkelman to “convey to the proper authorities that the investigation needs to be expeditious, thorough, transparent and independent.”

“We fully respect the right of law in the Turks and Caicos,” Nelson said. “But when an incident occurs like this, the suspicions are aroused. Is this a shakedown of American tourists?”

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Elitist, Happy Cuba Traveler “Shocked” at All The Backlash

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Feh…

Jessica Chasmar @ The Washington Times

Pop icon Beyonce called the amount of criticism she and husband Jay-Z faced for their vacation in Cuba “shocking” in an interview that aired Monday.

“You know, it was such a beautiful trip. I met some incredible children. I visited some incredible entrepreneurs. I learned so much about so many people and the country and [all of the criticism] was actually quite shocking,” the singer said on ABC’s “Good Morning America.”

The music power couple celebrated their fifth anniversary in Havana last month, drawing the ire of several politicians. Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Mario Diaz-Balart and Debbie Wasserman Schultz have all questioned why — and how — the couple was able to visit the communist country.

I guess Mr. and Mrs. Z only managed to visit the paradise part of Cuba. Truth be told, this pampered princess of the Obama White House could have made a big impact on publicizing the plight of the real Cuban people who suffer everyday under apartheid, and most especially the brave mission of the government abused Ladies in White. But she and her husband instead chose the easy propaganda path so many other American celebrities stroll on while in Cuba.

As Mr. T was known to say, “I pity the fool”.

Boston Bombing Fallout

In the two weeks plus after the Boston Marathon bombings, we have learned quite a bit about the terrorists and their family. One scandalous fact is that these cretins had received welfare benefits.

  Imagine that, immigrants that are welcomed into the best country on earth, provided with security and an education and even public assistance, repay it by attacking it. Someting so absurd that it  prompted president Obama to ask “…why did young men who grew up and studied here, as art of our communities and our country, resort to such violence? (perhaps he should just ask that “guy from the neighborhood,” Bill Ayres, but that’s another post…) 

Others are saying never mind they were on welfare , why are we letting these people in the country in the first place? In fact, in the minds of some, the Boston Bombings have negatively impacted the chances of bi-partisan immigration reform.

 The murderous religious fanatics that perpetrated these crimes were here because, like us Cubans, they had been granted political asylum. Like me and many of you, they were refugees which entitled them to all the rights and privileges bestowed on those lucky enough to be American citizens.

 Before this, there had been little if any talk of incorporating major changes to the asylum process into immigration reform. In fact, the proposed tweaks to asylum seekers  would have made it easier for them.

 But now,  people, like Bill O’Rielly and Charles Krauthammer, are asking how it can be that a person who is allowed to settle in the United States because they are being politically persecuted in their country, can return to said country to vacation, invest, attend cultural events or even “schooling” without any repercussions. Such was the case with the dead bomber Tamerlan Tsarnaev who returned to Russia where he was allegedly under danger of persecution because he was an Islamic ethnic Chechen.

 And that’s a hell of a question. Specially when you’re granted refugee status from a country that’s on the State Department’s list of State Sponsors of Terrorism, who trains and harbors terrorists, engages in and traffics espionage,conducts cyber and economic  attacks and  even once urged the USSR to attack the US with nuclear weapons: Cuba.

 The risks of refugees returning to Cuba being “radicalized” and trained to harm the United States are the same, if not greater, than any other group. The Cuban regime aggressively recruits sympathizers, agents and even uses blackmail and hostage taking to advance its cause and sphere of influence.

 Now that the United States’ political asylum policy has become part of the immigration reform debate, it’s only logical some legislators will begin to question the legitimacy of  some refugees and reach the conclusion that if a person  who was granted political asylum can return to the country where they claim they were in danger without any consequences, they did not deserve to be granted “political refugee” status and are just common immigrants who must follow the same immigration rules as everybody else.

The fallout from those bombs that went off in Boston may very well hit Miami soon…

New Cuba Sage: “I done turned Havana into Atlanta”

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Last week it was the tale of two black women in Cuba. This week it’s the tale of two rappers.

Well, that was fast, huh? You wrote a real good rap song, real good rap song, Jay-Z.

It’s all about his trip to Cuba and his transforming and enlightening experiences there. Must’ve wrote it on the flight back to the USA. I guess Jay-Z got some eye-opening educating in that whole “Cuba education exchange” trip he and his wife made last week. And now he’s a big Cuba expert educating the rest of us on the truth. Some real prolific observations down in those lyrics

Rapper Jay-Z released a new track Thursday in which he boasts about his recent trip to Cuba with superstar Beyoncé and says that President Barack Obama told him he’d get him “impeached.”

“I done turned Havana into Atlanta,” Jay-Z raps in “Open Letter,” which he released Thursday. “[…] Boy from the hood, I got White House clearance… Politicians never did s—- for me except lie to me, distort history… They wanna give me jail time and a fine. Fine, let me commit a real crime.”

He later raps: “Hear the freedom in my speech… Obama said, ‘Chill you gonna get me impeached. You don’t need this s—- anyway, chill with me on the beach.’”

“I’m in Cuba, I love Cubans. This communist talk is so confusing,” Jay-Z raps on the track, which is produced by Timbaland and Swizz Beatz and goes on to reference the Bob Dylan song “Idiot Wind.” “[…] ‘Idiot Wind,’ the Bob Dylan of rap music. You’re an idiot, baby, you should’ve become a student. Oh, you gonna learn today.”

I guess Jay-Z is feeling some political dissident pressure after the trip … or something.

It’s just too damn bad Cuban dissident rapper Angel Yunier Remon Arzuaga had to misbehave and diss the castro government in his lyrics or he could be listening to the new fantastic release Jay-Z will be making lots of money off of. Ain’t no radio or internet in castro’s prisons, Angel. Hell, brother, ya coulda been chillin’ on the beach with Jay-Z. But no-o-o-o-o…

The ‘Fully Licensed’ Propagandists for Castro

When asked yesterday in the daily White House briefing about the controversial Jay-Z and Beyonce anniversary vacation to Cuba Obama’s Press Sec. Jay Carney deflected responsibility to the Treasury Department

The Treasury Department “fully licensed” Beyonce and Jay Z’s trip to Cuba, according to Reuters.

“American pop star Beyonce and rapper husband Jay Z visited Havana last week on a cultural trip that was fully licensed by the United States Treasury Department, according to a source familiar with the trip,” Reuters reports.

“Beyonce and Jay Z celebrated their fifth wedding anniversary in the Cuban capital, where big crowds greeted them as they strolled hand in hand through the city and posed for pictures with admiring Cubans.

“The longstanding U.S. trade embargo against Cuba prevents most Americans from traveling to the island without a license granted by the U.S. government, though President Barack Obama’s administration has eased restrictions on travel to Cuba for academic, religious or cultural programs.”

The Treasury Department is led by Secretary Jack Lew, President Obama’s former chief of staff. […]

Supposedly this trip was viewed as a “cultural exchange”. The couple sure looked like your typical tourists to me. And let’s be honest …

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How much real 21st century Cuban culture was exchanged with Obama’s buddies?

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Yoani Sanchez Gets Passport and Will Travel Out of Cuba

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Update to Alberto’s previous post.

(Reuters) – Cuba’s best-known dissident, blogger Yoani Sanchez, received a passport on Wednesday under the island’s new, freer travel law and said she would go abroad soon, after years of being denied that right.

Sanchez’ case was viewed as a test of the Cuban government’s commitment to free travel, but the news was not as good for Angel Moya, another dissident who, Sanchez said, was denied a passport.

“Incredible! They called to my house to tell me that my passport was ready. They just delivered it to me,” Sanchez wrote on Twitter. “Now the only thing left is to be able to board that plane.”

Hated by Cuba’s communist government for constantly criticizing the system in her “Generation Y” blog, Sanchez, a 37-year-old Havana resident, has said she was denied the right to travel 20 times under Cuba’s old travel law and doubted she would get a passport under the new ones.

Cuba’s leaders consider dissidents traitorous “mercenaries” in the employ of the United States and other enemies.

But on January 14, when the reforms took effect, Sanchez went to an immigration office, was told she would get a passport and would be able to come and go as she pleased.

Other well-known dissidents also have been told they will get passports.

The old travel law was put in place in 1961 to slow the flight of Cubans after the island’s 1959 revolution.

RESTRICTIONS LOOSENED

The new law got rid of the much-hated need to obtain an exit visa and loosened other restrictions that had discouraged Cubans from leaving.

It was one of the wide-ranging reforms President Raul Castro has enacted since he succeeded his older brother, Fidel Castro, in 2008.

There are still travel restrictions for certain professions, reasons of national security and for those with pending legal cases, which may affect a number of dissidents like Moya.

He was one of 75 people arrested and imprisoned in a 2003 crackdown that provoked international condemnation of the Cuban government.

Moya was released in 2011, but remains on parole for the remainder of the 20-year sentence he received 10 years ago.

Sanchez tweeted that Moya had been denied a passport.

“I am happy and sad. On one side, I have my document for travel, but they will not permit it for several friends like Angel Moya,” she wrote.

Neither Sanchez nor Moya could be reached for comment.

Sanchez, who has won a number of international prizes for her blog but has never been able to leave to collect them, said on January 14 she would travel as soon as she got the passport.

She told friends she might be gone for three months because she had so many pending commitments.

She did not say what her plans were, but she was clearly thinking about how much she would miss Havana.

“Havana of the lights and the shadows, of the dusk that smells of sweat and burned oil. I miss it and I’m not yet away,” she tweeted.

Sen. Marco Rubio on Visa for Castro’s Daughter: “It Sends a Terrible Message to the Democratic Movement in Cuba…”

“… to those brave people in Cuba who every single day resist and speak out …”

HT: Capitol Hill Cubans

 

SENATOR RUBIO COMMENTS ON ISSUANCE OF U.S. VISA TO RAUL CASTRO’S DAUGHTER

 
Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) issued the following statement regarding the issuance of a U.S. visa to Raul Castro’s daughter:
 
“I think the U.S. government’s decision to grant the daughter of Raul Castro a visa to come to the United States and spread the propaganda of her father’s regime is outrageous and an enormous mistake. Not only that, it sends a terrible message to the democratic movement in Cuba, to those brave people in Cuba who every single day resist and speak out against the tyranny of the Castro brothers. Meanwhile, we are granting a visa to his daughter, who is not just his daughter.  She is an arm of his regime, an outspoken supporter and is coming to the United States to spread their anti-American propaganda. It is shameful that they would grant that visa.”
 
Watch Senator Rubio’s video statement in both English and Spanish on YouTube.  For television stations interested in airing today’s statements, a broadcast quality video is also available in both English and Spanish.
 

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Exporting Freedom to Cuba

Not much is uglier than people vacationing in a Potemkin village while ignoring  human rights atrocities  right under their noses.   However, I think Congressmen Jeff Flake and Charles Rangel naming a bill allowing  just that the “Export Freedom to Cuba Act,” is an affront to all those in Cuba struggling for freedom.  Ugly Americans indeed.

From The Hill

Inspired by Cuba’s pro-democracy leaders
 
By Mauricio Claver-Carone,a director of the U.S.-Cuba Democracy PAC and founding editor of CapitolHillCubans.com in Washington, D.C 10/12/11 01:01 PM ET

 What could be more pompous (and insulting) than the argument that American and foreign tourists can “inspire” the Cuban people to seek democracy? Not much.

Well, on second thought, maybe Republican Congressman Jeff Flake of Arizona and Democratic Congressman Charlie Rangel of New York calling their bill to sweep away all remaining restrictions on American travel to Cuba, the “Export Freedom to Cuba Act.”

Or, the Obama Administration, which rejects American exceptionalism everywhere else in the world, arguing that American travelers (that have been carefully screened for entry by the Castro regime) are our best “Ambassadors of Freedom” to the Cuban people.

 Their argument is that Cubans, upon seeing spring breakers and tourists enjoying luxury “people-to-people” tours and Cuban-American “mules” peddling flat-screen TV’s, will suddenly realize what they’re missing under the Castros’ totalitarian dictatorship, as if Cubans don’t already know what’s missing, and life under a brutal regime was their voluntary choice.

The argument further holds that American travelers are different from the throngs of Canadian snowbirds and the European sex tourists visiting the island for the last two decades, frequently degrading the Cuban people while bankrolling the repressive regime.

American travelers, in other words, will be “truly inspirational.”

Americans are undoubtedly the kindest, noblest and most charitable people in the world. But it’s extraordinarily arrogant to argue that any foreign tourist is needed to inspire or empower the Cuban people, when some of the most courageous and inspirational people in this world are living in Cuba.

Meet Ivonne Mayeza Galano.

Last month, this amazing woman stood alone on the steps of the Capitol building in Havana. Knowing the brutality of the repression that awaited her, she nonetheless, peacefully held up a sign reading:

“Cambios en Cuba Sin Dictadura” (“Change in Cuba Without Dictatorship”)

She was promptly arrested, stripped naked, searched and violently interrogated.

Two weeks later, four other women, Sara Marta Fonseca, Mercedes García Álvarez, Tania Maldonado Sánchez and Odalys Zurma González, continued her protest. Predictably, they too were arrested, but this time it took Castro’s security forces 40-minutes to drag them away, as a gathering crowd of bystanders began to heckle the oppressors.

Or how about Iris Perez Aguilera?

This Afro-Cuban pro-democracy leader is the founder of the Rosa Parks Feminist Movement for Civil Rights. She undertakes weekly protests and sit-ins. As a result of these, Castro’s secret police, on numerous occasions, has abused and brutally beaten her — to the point of hospitalization.

Or how about Iris’s husband, Jorge Luis Garcia Perez “Antunez?”

Antunez, often referred to as Cuba’s Nelson Mandela, spent 17-years as a political prisoner for protesting in the public square of his hometown. Today, still a young 46-years old, he is the leader of Cuba’s civil disobedience movement.

Or how about Dr. Oscar Elias Biscet?

A charismatic physician, he spent nearly 11-years in political prison for his democratic advocacy as head of the Lawton Foundation for Human Rights. At a recent concert, U2’s Bono honored Dr. Biscet as a true inspiration.

Or Marcelino Abreu, who has spent over 100 days on a hunger strike, protesting his unjust four-year prison-sentence. His crime was refusing to show a police officer identification after walking nearby the Castro regime’s tourist-only Hotel Nacional. Abreu still holds that Cubans should be free to walk on the public streets and enter the public buildings of their homeland. Cuban authorities disagree.

Or the young rappers and rockers that defy the Cuban dictatorship through their lyrics and whose concerts and music festivals are under constant siege by the “Ministry of Culture” backed by the regime’s armed police.

Or the bloggers and social media activists who brave the Castros’ censors to inform the world of the harsh brutality and injustices the Cuban people face.

How can foreign travelers —ignorant of life under tyranny and repression– represent democratic ideals better than these icons who have spent years in political prison, and brave daily violence and beatings, to express their democratic aspirations and promote change in Cuba?

Let those of us who live in the United States stop insulting courageous pro-democracy leaders in Cuba with talk of “inspiring” them. The Cuban people don’t need to be “inspired” by people abroad. They need our unwavering support for their struggle and for tangible pressure against the dictatorship that represses them.

Paquito D’Rivera explains the twisted logic behind “Cultural Exchanges”

Thanks to the inimitable Paquito D’Rivera for shedding light on this phenomenon, because I’ve been unable to understand how it is beneficial for Americans to spend their hard-earned, and increasingly hard to acquire dollars on propaganda shows produced by tyrannical dictators who enslave their people and hate us. While it’s easy to understand why the dictator’s agents of influence would promote such events, I have a hard time understanding why respected institutions of culture agree to participate, or why someone who escaped the plantation is now willing to dance for the former master, or why a son of an exile would dishonor his  father.

Yes… Libya!

By Paquito D’Rivera

Years ago, Miami’s Willy Chirino had a hit song—a cute Cuban Guaracha— with a chorus that went: “If she wears a Bikini… punish her!, If she wears a mini-skirt… punish her!” The song was about a tycoon whose wife was kind of loose. Each time she slipped, her husband would “punish” her by buying her a mansion, the latest model sports car, or a vacation with her girlfriends in The Bahamas.

Apparently the US government has taken Chirino’s parody too seriously, or perhaps someone has convinced them to apply such a peculiar disciplinary concept to the most cruel and dangerous of dictatorships in this convoluted world of ours. In a friendly and conciliatory gesture, on February 2008, the Bush administration sent the New York Philharmonic Orchestra to a gala concert in North Korea. Naturally, the despotic Kin Jon-Il didn’t even bother to attend. His answer was to increase even more his threatening atomic arsenal. Two years later, among a myriad of atrocities taking place in Cuba, pacifist Afro-Cuban doctor Oscar Elias Biscet, a devoted follower of Dr. Martin Luther King’s ideas, was sentenced to 25 years in prison; Orlando Zapata-Tamayo’s death in a hunger strike; the physical and mental abuse of his mother Reina Luisa Tamayo and to the self-sacrificing Ladies in White; the incarceration of hundreds of dissidents and even the arbitrary detention of American citizen Alan P. Gross.

It seems like to celebrate such horrors, the New York City Ballet, the Wynton Marsalis Orchestra, and also Chico O’Farrill’s orchestra, under his son Arturo’s direction, traveled to Cuba. The Ministry of Culture of the oldest (and most ridiculous) dictatorship in the hemisphere invited them. “Ours is not a political visit. It is strictly musical”, the travelers simply affirmed as if in a totalitarian country like Cuba, everything, absolutely everything, didn’t have markedly political intentions.

The examples of “friendly aggressions” of Americans against ill-governed nations by never ending tyrannies have been quite many. Of the shameful case of China business affairs we better not even talk about. But we must recognize that the massive repressive escalation of the Castro brothers’ dictatorship, finally gained the support of many more nations that united to condemn these five decades plus of abuse and arbitrariness. In the meantime, President Obama’s administration, following the Chirino song’s chorus, “punishes” the repressor by encouraging travel and cultural exchanges (unilateral of course) of American artists and their counterparts (in what is left) of the island in ruins. This basically translates into considerable new revenue of extra cash for the Castro government. Also the sponsorship of a huge Cuban festival in the city of the skyscrapers, facilitating the free use of US territory as an enormous exhibit warehouse, where they will showcase only what they decide people should see.

As we expected, in the expo named “¡Sí Cuba!”, or Yes Cuba!”, the valuable contributions of Celia Cruz, Cachao, Guillermo Cabrera Infante, Zoé Valdés, Andy García, Gloria Estefan, Olga Guillot, Carlos Alberto Montaner, Bebo Valdés and so many other giants of our national culture will be absent. They have been systematically deleted from our suffering country’s history books because they oppose communism.

So, following the above mentioned examples, now that the Libyans, with the support of the civilized world, are liberating a crucial battle against Muhammar Gaddafi (or however the hell it’s spelled), I propose that –through the Libyan Embassy in Washington DC– we request that the Bedouin Coronel’s Ministry of Culture, organize the “Yes Libya!” festival. It’ll be pretty much like Fidel’s, but instead of mambos and rhumbas, they can play their own nawbah and takambas; musical styles danced by Libyans (at least by those who are still alive).

I suggest the festivities to begin with a great demonstration on camelbacks and dromedaries, loaned by the nation’s zoos that house those particular species. The camel riders, dressed as they do in the dessert, will be carrying curved swords, daggers, hand-grenades, anti-yankee placards, life size posters of the brother leader of the revolution and AKG rifles, fired occasionally by the cavalry men. (About the possible throwing of hand-grenades and other explosives against opposing demonstrators, we would submit this option to a democratic vote from the Libyan government’s organizing committee).

The cavalcade, preceded by the RPSBB (Retired Palestinian Suicide Bombers Band) and by women covered with veils and burkas, would march from Times Square to Ground Zero’s esplanade, where counting on the voluntary assistance of Casa de las Americas, Pastors for Peace, the Venceremos Brigade and the diplomatic representation of Venezuela, Cuba and Nicaragua, would put up the dictator’s (pardon me, the leader’s) legendary Bedouin tent. Once in the neighborhood, there will be a prayer on the site of the mosque that was to be built there and had caused so much controversy among the intolerant families of the twin towers’ victims; little incident that occurred so long ago. At the end of the prayers, there will be free shish kebab, couscous with chickpeas and barbecued goat testicles. Passages of the Koran will be read and there will be a give-away of the famous green book, autographed by the remarkable author, father of the revolution. A Libyan boy, wearing a Che Guevara T-Shirt, machine gun in hand, will unveil a beautiful statue of Benjamin Netanyahu hanging from an olive tree in the heart of the historical plaza, once home of the twin towers, a symbol of capitalism. At the end of the ceremony, Mayor Bloomberg will read a proclamation declaring the official day of Tripoli in New York. As evidence of Islamic tolerance, accompanied by the Retired Palestinian Suicidal Bombers Band, Louis Fahrakan will interpret the Arab version of Willy Chirino’s “Punish Her,” especially orchestrated by Robert Mugabe for this occasion. To close with a golden seal, 100 members of the Palestinian band, activating their explosive vests at the cry of “Yes Libyaaa!” would blow to pieces and in the name of the eternal brotherhood between our people, 40 American flags will be burned along with 49 Israeli flags and a Cohiba cigar. Allah-Akbar!

Paquito D’Rivera.
Bern, Switzerland,
April 27-2011

Kafkaesque Bureaucracy: Show Us ALL Your Papers

Blog Boing Boing says the U.S. State Department has plans for some new procedures for U.S. citizens looking to apply for a U.S. Passport … I have a feeling Obama might have a slight problem getting one:

Olga sez, “The U.S. Dept of State is proposing a new Biographical Questionnaire for passport applicants: proposed new Form DS-5513 asks for all addresses since birth; lifetime employment history, personal details of siblings; mother’s addresses prior to your birth; any “religious ceremony” around time of birth, circumstances of birth including names (as well as addresses/phone numbers) of persons present, & more. Failure to answer can mean denial of passport, & govt reserves right to use this info for ‘routine uses.'”

Update: Commenters note that this form is specifically intended in lieu of a birth certificate with a passport application; but as the FA suggests, the circumstances in which people unable to provide a birth certificate will be given this form (rather than the traditional bureaucratic investigation) are not spelled out; further, the form itself remains a Kafkaesque impossibility for most people to complete.

Read more…

For some odd reason this story gives me the feel of the old “Iron Curtain”.

A U.S. Company is Blaming The Cuban Government for the Loss of a Building Supplies Barge Headed for Haiti

What a waste …

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti – A U.S. housing company is blaming Cuba for the loss of a barge loaded with supplies to build shelters for displaced earthquake survivors in Haiti.

Executives with Harbor Homes LLC said late Saturday that the Cuban government denied the U.S. Coast Guard permission to enter its waters to reclaim a drifting barge carrying $2 million worth of humanitarian supplies bound for the quake-devastated Caribbean country.

As a result, the barge carrying cargo to build 1,000 homes in Haiti sank in December as the Cuban military attempted to tow it ashore. A tow line snapped and the barge ran aground, scattering building supplies, three tractors, and a bulldozer into the Atlantic, company officials said.

“At the end of the day the Cuban government is directly and solely responsible for the sinking of this vessel,” said Matt Williams, a spokesman for Harbor Homes and its subsidiary PermaShelter. “A lot of homes aren’t being built because of the Cuban government.”

Cuban government officials could not be reached for comment.

Read more

Cuban church leader publishes letter denouncing persecution

 
For Immediate Release
16 February 2011
A respected Baptist pastor in Cuba has published an open letter denouncing government persecution targeting him and his church. Pastor Homero Carbonell, long-time leader of La Trinidad First Baptist Church in Santa Clara, and a high-level denominational leader, says he has been forced to retire due to prolonged government pressure and threats made against his church.
The twelve page letter, sent by Pastor Carbonell to Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), gives details of the Religious Affairs Office’s treatment of Pastor Carbonell and his church over the past three years. Spurious accusations against Pastor Carbonell, including allegations that he is associated with the counterrevolution and is tied to unspecified “illegalities” culminated in a serious of penalties being applied to his church. While Pastor Carbonell finally stepped down from his role as leader of the church in October 2010, the sanctions have not been lifted.
Numerous requests for clarification on the part of church leaders went unanswered and a series of meetings with officials from the Religious Affairs Office, headed by Caridad Diego, failed to rectify the situation. In one meeting, government officials concluded the meeting by telling Pastor Carbonell to behave himself.
In the open letter, Pastor Carbonell echoes calls by other religious leaders in Cuba for legislation regulating religious practice, as such a law “would not only regulate believers, but would also regulate the government, and would give believers a legal instrument to deal with any legal dispute to support their claims and not leave them subject to political decisions emanating from groups in power, who can take coercive, wrong, or privileged decisions in matters of conscience.”
The government’s focus on Pastor Carbonell and his church appears to be driven by the church’s consistent refusal to expel family members of political prisoners and members of the human rights or pro-democracy groups from the congregation. The Cuban government has long heavily pressured church leaders of all denominations to shun anyone linked to human rights or pro-democracy activism.
Pastor Carbonell’s experience is in line with the conclusions by a 2010 CSW report which found that while overt forms of persecution such as the destruction of unauthorized churches had diminished somewhat, government pressure on individual church leaders had reached unprecedented levels. One church leader told CSW that government persecution had not been as subtle or as effective since the 1980s.
CSW’s Advocacy Director Andrew Johnston said, “We are deeply concerned and stand in solidarity with Pastor Carbonell and the entire La Trinidad Baptist Church. While the Cuban government has implemented some economic reforms over the past year, there appears to be little official will to consider reforms that would protect basic human rights like religious freedom. It is troubling that the situation for many church leaders across the island appears to be growing steadily worse. We call on the Cuban government to cease its harassment of Pastor Carbonell and his family, to remove the sanctions against La Trinidad First Baptist Church, and back his call for new legislation that would establish clear legal parameters and recourse for appeal regarding all religious activity.”
For further information or to arrange interviews please contact Kiri Kankhwende, Press Officer at Christian Solidarity Worldwide on +44 (0)20 8329 0045 / +44 (0) 78 2332 9663, email kiri@csw.org.uk or visit www.csw.org.uk.
Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) is a Christian organization working for religious freedom through advocacy and human rights, in the pursuit of justice.
 
Note to the ¨Cuba experts¨promoting people to people contact (my emphasis):
 
The Office for Religious Affairs of the Central Committee of the Cuban Communist Party has sole responsibility for regulating all religious activity on the island. The long-time head office, Caridad Diego, has been repeatedly criticized by leaders of all denominations. As the office is an arm of the Communist Party, there is no legal mechanism for church’s to appeal decisions they feel are unfair are in error.
La Trinidad First Baptist Church of Santa Clara is part of the Western Convention of Cuban Baptists and is not a member of the Cuban Council of Churches. Together, the Eastern and Western Conventions of Baptists form one of the largest Protestant denominations on the island.
Penalties applied to the church include a prohibition on any foreigner traveling with a religious visa from visiting the Trinidad First Baptist Church, non-authorization of the purchase of a church van, and refusal to issue permission to Pastor Carbonell to leave the country to attend religious conferences abroad. In addition, officials have threatened to cancel the church’s bank account which they have held since 1988.
Pastor Carbonell’s letter is available in English and in Spanish.
CSW’s 2010 report on religious liberty in Cuba is available in English and in Spanish on our website at http://dynamic.csw.org.uk/article.asp?t=report&id=128

 

 As Alan Gross has painfully discovered, only regime friendly visitors are welcome in Cuba.
 

What Embargo? It’s Christmas in Havana

Christmas in Havana
(In this Dec. 16, 2010 photo, Wilfredo Martinez Jr. of Miami writes the word ‘Fragile’ on a television set he is taking on his flight to Cuba at Miami … More photos @ AP including worship at the Shrine of Saint Lazarus 2010)

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Cuban-Americans visiting Cuba are hauling in the mother lode of goods …

HAVANA – In Cuba, Santa’s sleigh is a Boeing 737.

Thousands of Cuban-Americans are heading to Havana this holiday season carrying everything from electronics and medicine to clothing and toiletries to help relatives back home supplement monthly salaries averaging about $20.

Not only are Cuban-Americans visiting the island in far greater numbers since President Barack Obama lifted travel restrictions last year, they are bringing more stuff. One carrier says the average bag weight per passenger is up 55 percent — and many Miami-Havana flights are shadowed by a separate cargo plane just to haul the load.

“They bring you things for the family,” said Paulo Roman Garcia, a 45-year-old Havana native who makes $9.50 a month selling fruit at a market in the city’s historic quarter.

Roman Garcia was looking forward to a visit in the New Year from his older brother, who lives in New Jersey and will be coming down with stocking-stuffers such as clothing and treats, as well as big-ticket items including a stereo.

“My son has asthma, and he’s bringing inhalers for his asthma,” Roman Garcia said. “Medicines are very important. Some don’t exist here, or they’re hard to find.”

During the administration of former President George W. Bush, Cuban-Americans were allowed to visit only once every three years and were limited to $100 a month in remittances. Those restrictions ended in April 2009, although most non-Cuban Americans are still barred from traveling to the island.

Cuba watchers and charter flight operators say travel between the United States and Cuba skyrocketed after the change and continues to climb steadily.

“About 1,000 visitors are arriving a day from the U.S., and they expect somewhere close to 400,000 by the end of the year,” said Kirby Jones, president of Alamar Associates of Bethesda, Maryland, a consulting firm that works with American companies looking to do business with Cuba.

“The U.S. is now sending the second-most visitors to Cuba than any other country,” after Canada, Jones said.

The great majority are of Cuban heritage, and the rest are non-Cuban Americans traveling for officially sanctioned activities such as academic, cultural and sports exchanges. The figure does not include the small but growing number of Americans who sidestep the travel ban by flying in through Canada, Mexico or other countries, risking a stiff U.S. fine if they are caught.

Traffic is even greater during the busy holiday season, when charters add additional flights that quickly fill up. Miami airport officials said 55 flights are scheduled to depart to four Cuban cities this weekend, among the heaviest travel days leading up to Christmas.

At Havana’s Jose Marti International Airport, Cubans crowded up against a low metal fence last week, straining to watch for loved ones as they emerged from customs pushing carts piled high with shrink-wrapped luggage, kitchen appliances, televisions, stuffed animals and cardboard boxes bursting at the seams. (Read in full)

“If you care about human rights”

Thinking about how to best explain to Americans why they should not travel to Cuba, I remembered an article the wonderful Carlos Eire wrote for a Cuban Internet group a few years ago.  I contacted him for permission to share the article here at Babalu, and he very graciously not only gave his permission, but also updated the article to reflect the current reality in Cuba, which sadly, as you all know remains basically unchanged. 

“If you care about human rights.”  If it mattered how the native population was treated in apartheid South Africa, then it has to matter how they are treated in Cuba.  If not, then all who supported that boycott are hypocrites.  Decide Americans, which has more value, a beach vacation drinking Mojitos in the sun, or the human rights of eleven million enslaved people. 

The following, Carlos Eire’s updated answer to an inquiry about travel to Cuba, is to me the most lucid writing I’ve read on what Americans should think about when it comes to visiting the island.  

A huge thanks to the incomparable Carlos M. N. Eire for this: 

Yes, you can go there. People always find ways of traveling to “forbidden” places. Some traveled freely to the Third Reich too, and to South Africa when apartheid was still practiced. If it were at all possible, some would undoubtedly take tours of hell, too.

There are all sorts of ways to sneak into Castrolandia, via other countries that have dealings with it. All you have to do is to fly somewhere where they have flights to Revolutionstan hop on one of their planes. But that is illegal for Americans. So just be sure to remind the Cuban authorities not to stamp your American passport once you get there. They are very used to that request. The only legal way for Americans to travel to Cuba is with a humanitarian or educational program. However, you should know that all of these programs have to pay their pound of flesh to the elites of Revolutionstan, and that much of the humanitarian aid is snapped up by the corrupt officials who run the island..

If you really want to go, here is something you must keep in mind: As a tourist in Cuba, you will be supporting an economic and political system that practices apartheid and discrimination. As a tourist, you will have access to hotels, restaurants, beaches, transportation, food, drink, and all other sorts of merchandise and amenities that are strictly off limits to 99.99% of the Cuban population. Until very recently, Cubans were not allowed to set foot in tourist hotels under any circumstances, or to use the beaches or pools, etc… unless they worked there. Raul Castro loosened up on this draconian apartheid, just a little bit. It is now “legal” for Cubans to step into tourist hotels, but good luck to you, my friend, if you are Cuban and dare to do that. The apartheid is still in practice, even though it has been removed from the books by sleight of hand. And to work there, you have to kiss ass and play the game the governing elite want you to play. You also need skin that is not too dark. African Cubans tend to be discriminated against by the white elites who run the island. If you are lucky enough to land a job in a tourist facility, as a Cuban worker you will also only earn about 17 dollars a month, even though the European hotel chain is actually paying out about 10 dollars an hour for your labor. The military junta that runs the island skims the profits. And forget about tipping. It is illegal for Cubans to accept tips or gifts from foreigners.

Ask yourself: what is the difference between an old-fashioned slave plantation and Castrolandia? Think about the slave labor that built the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., which made the slave owners fabulously wealthy, and then about the slave labor of Cubans who toil in all of the carefully segregated tourist facilities of Revolutionstan, which makes the old white Cuban men who run the tourist industry rich. Anyone with an active conscience should eventually see the similarities. The masters of the slaves who built the Capitol got paid the going rate for labor, while their slaves got nothing at all, save their meals, which you can bet were less than gourmet quality.

Oh, but they have free medical care in Cuba, you say.

Well, think it through: the Capitol slaves got their wounds treated, along with all their other ailments. No one wants an unhealthy, unproductive slave. Slaves are investments.

Oh, but in Cuba they have free education, you say.

Well, think that one through too: slaves who toil in the tourist industry need certain skills, like reading and math. You can bet that the slaves who built the Capitol also got a “free” education in the skills they needed to haul the stones and put them in place. In Cuba the privileged elites who profit from everyone else’s labor not only boast about this sort of exploitation as “free education and medical care,” but actually argue that the only way to deliver these “free” benefits to the people is to deny them their most basic human rights.

Have you any idea how repressed the Cuban people are?
No freedom of speech.
No free press.
No freedom of assembly.
No free enterprise of any kind.
No freedom to travel outside the island.
No freedom to change residence within the island.
No labor unions.
No negotiating with the only employer, which is the government.
No access to all facilities used by tourists.
No access to boats of any kind, unless you are employed by the ministry of fisheries.

And so on…. that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

You ask how you can start exchanging emails with Cubans. Tough luck, my friend: 99 percent of the Cuban population is forbidden access to computers and the internet. Good luck finding someone who is not a member of the ruling class who will exchange emails with you. And good luck getting any honest replies from them.

Before you embark, please note that you can be arrested and imprisoned if the authorities decide that you are merely capable of causing trouble. Suspicion alone can land you in jail. And you can be held in jail indefinitely without any specific charges pressed against you.

Also keep in mind that foreigners can be arrested and held in prison if they are suspected of being agents of a foreign state. This happened to Alan Gross, an American, a few months ago, for distributing laptops and cell phones to Cubans. He has yet to be freed.

Go, then, at your own risk.

Your body will probably be safe, and you will find plenty to eat and drink, unlike the vast majority of Cubans. If sex is what you crave, you will certainly find no shortage of men, women, and children who will eagerly exchange their dignity for a few coins and fulfill your every fantasy, no matter how kinky.

Go, then. But know this: your soul will be in peril, along with your conscience. If you care about human rights.

Carlos Eire

Some logic on US-Cuba policy

Capitol Hill Cubans straighten out Senator Kerry’s twisted thinking:

How can Senator Kerry boldly state that U.S policy has “manifestly failed” for nearly 50 years, then qualify the Clinton Administration’s travel and engagement initiatives as “successful”?

Wasn’t Bill Clinton’s presidency within the last 50 years?

Wasn’t Jimmy Carter’s presidency — when tourism and all other travel transactions between the U.S. and Cuba were completely authorized without limitation — also within the last 50 years?
Under this premise, shouldn’t travel and engagement also be classified as a “failure”?

Think about it, in the aftermath to the fall of the Soviet Union, during the most politically and economically vulnerable time for the Castro regime in recent history, the Clinton Administration chose the path of travel and engagement — to no avail.

Read the whole wonderful rebuttal to a twisted liberal mind here.