As ridiculous as this may sound, the U.S. embassy in Havana is promoting a “twerking” event in Havana under the pretense of advancing “freedom of expression.” Of course, there is no freedom of expression in communist Cuba, but that didn’t stop them from throwing this absurd event. The event is so preposterous that Cubans are wondering if the Americans at the embassy have lost their minds.
U.S. embassy in Cuba criticized for promoting a ‘twerking’ event with an entity close to a Cuban regime official
“Did you know that Bounce music has a close relationship with freedom of expression and respect for diversity? It’s true! Join Big Freedia, one of the most important figures in New Orleans Bounce music, who will perform on November 17th at La Lavandería. Join their feeling!” said a promotion by the United States Embassy in Havana posted on Facebook, which has sparked reactions from human rights activists.
“‘Twerk out: twerking and fashion’,” reads the promotional poster from the diplomatic headquarters, prompting immediate criticism.
“Bounce music may have something to do with freedom of expression, but the Cuban stage is far from that,” retorted independent journalist Luz Escobar.
Meanwhile, the legendary rock musician Dagoberto Pedraja echoed Escobar’s comment, sarcastically stating, “Bounce = Yankee distribution,” in a thinly veiled critique of the popular urban genre on the island. Anabelkis Fiallo, a Cuban residing in Miami, pointed out “that this page only promotes tourism to Cuba.”
Camagüeyan journalist José Raúl Gallego wrote, “Nooooooo. What’s wrong with you? Freedom of expression in Cuba? Tell Big Freedia to demand the freedom of Brenda Díaz or Cruz Santa, or the rest of the political prisoners from the LGBT community and in general that exist in Cuba. Freedom of expression working with people who only care about money, staying afloat, or whitewashing the regime and who don’t even dare to mention the numerous human rights violations that occur in Cuba daily?”
Independent activist and reporter José Gabriel Barrenechea Chavez also mentioned that on the island, forms of expression that don’t challenge the regime are the ones allowed.
As per the promotion, the event is sponsored by a controversial company called Cuba Educational Travel (CET) founded by Collin Laverty in 2012, which describes itself as “a leading expert in Cuba and U.S.-Cuba relations.” According to an itinerary for the event now promoted by the State Department, CET began operations in collaboration with the Center for Democracy in the Americas (CDA), whose former director Emily Mendrala is now an advisor to the White House.
CET under CDA organized trips to Cuba for U.S. Congressional delegations and advocated for changes in policy between the U.S. and Cuba in Congress,” as explained by the organization.
However, Mr. Laverty’s ties to individuals sanctioned by OFAC (Office of Foreign Assets Control) and politically exposed persons (PEPs) place his organization just two steps away from a Cuban entity under sanctions. In 2018, Collin Laverty, along with Marla Leyanet Recio-Carbajal, registered the Caribbean Arts and Entrepreneurship Corp, as per Florida property records. The company’s address is listed as 79 SW 12TH ST 3207, MIAMI FL 33130.
Recio is the sister of Roy Luis Recio-Carbajal, director of the Cuban regime’s bank in London, Havin Bank, operating under the umbrella of the Central Bank of Cuba and listed on OFAC’s sanctions list.
In terms of financial regulation, a politically exposed person (PEP), like Roy Luis Recio-Carbajal, is someone entrusted with a prominent public function. Generally, a PEP presents a higher risk of potential involvement in bribery and corruption due to their position and the influence they can exert.
Recio Carbajal, according to reports and interviews she gave in the past, maintains a romantic relationship with Laverty.
Additionally, she owns the event organizing company Havana Reverie.
Roy Luis Recio Carbajal, residing in Dragones in Old Havana, as well as his sister Marla Leyanet Recio Carbajal, born on August 9, 1981, are children of Marla del Rosario Carbajal Milanés, born in 1957, and father Roy Recio Pimentel, confirmed by ADN in Cuba.
“CET launched Havana Strategies in 2015, offering business consulting services to companies like Airbnb, Google, and Cummins who saw an opportunity to enter the Cuban market after President Obama initiated a process to normalize relations between the U.S. and Cuba in 2014,” reads the event’s presentation brochure, now deleted from the CET page.
In 2017, they established HabanaLive, “to meet the specialized production and service requirements of high-level MICE (Meetings, Incentives, Conferences, and Exhibitions) and leisure clients,” explains the brochure.
To comply with U.S. Treasury Department licenses, the itinerary must include educational content, and travelers must stay in what are called private residences. However, the ‘educational’ itinerary prepared by Cuba Educational Travel includes activities such as cigar and rum tastings, a fashion show, and twerking competitions. Additionally, trips in 1950s classic cars, which have become part of the allure for Americans enjoying the comfort of modernity and seeing poverty as ‘vintage’.
Travel packages are offered at $3,125 per person in a double room and $3,675 per person in a single room. This trip lacks an educational component addressing issues such as the human rights crisis, the over 1,000 political prisoners, including a Grammy-winning rapper, or other relevant matters for persecuted civil society actors. Instead, it promises a tour of places inaccessible to most Cubans, hidden behind the facade of “private” restaurants and hotels.