Disabled Canadian woman went to Cuba on vacation and had the “trip from hell”

An article in The Toronto Sun:

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Rose Finlay’s worst nightmare took flight on a Cuban vacation this week.
The 25-year-old mother of two is still awaiting her $7,000 custom wheelchair to arrive home from Varadero, after a long ordeal travelling with Sunwing, the airline which she claims repeatedly mistreated her.
“It was the most humiliating experience I’ve ever had,” Finlay said at her Bowmanville home Friday evening. “There were three planeloads of Canadians just watching me break down and cry.”
She took to social media and wrote about “the trip from hell” in a Facebook post, which has been shared over 32,000 times since it was posted Thursday.
Finlay and her husband, 32-year-old Brandon, booked a week-long vacation to Cuba without their kids to celebrate their first wedding anniversary, leaving May 20.
Diagnosed with a spinal cord injury at 16, she relies on her wheelchair and said she provided a detailed list of medical supplies and specifications of her chair.
When the plane landed in Varadero, Finlay said she was told by airline staff they couldn’t provide her with her custom chair at the door of the plane, but that it would come out on the carousel with the rest of the baggage. She said in usual circumstances, her wheelchair would be tagged and after she was shown to her seat, it would be the last thing to go on the plane.
“That way, when you get off the plane, your chair is there and you’re not any longer without the supports that are necessary,” she said. “But in Cuba, that wasn’t the case. They said it’ll come out with the baggage and here’s a rickety old chair, hop in. My husband placed me in it and I was completely crooked and I was pushed out to the baggage carousel with all the Canadians waiting, just watching.”
Her wheelchair came out “dead last,” Finlay said.
Because of an uncomfortable mattress, Finlay developed a pressure sore on her buttocks and requested the onsite Sunwing representative to relocate the couple to another resort. Upon arriving at the second resort, the pain continued and Finlay said she couldn’t find a Sunwing person to speak to about going home early.
And then, she got an e-mail stating that her return flight Thursday had been changed from a direct flight back to Toronto to one with a stopover in Manzanillo, Mexico, extending the trip by two hours. But when a representative was reached by phone, they offered no explanation and refused to put Finlay in touch with a manager.
The couple arrived at the airport three hours early.
“The longer I’m out of my custom wheelchair, the more risk I put myself for pressure sores and different things that can happen to my body,” Finlay said. “The Cuban airport is a very intimidating place, you don’t want to look like you’re stepping out of line. The check-in person told me to step out of my wheelchair because they have to check that too, and I said, ‘There’s not a chance in hell you’re going to get me out of my chair. What if I get it back and it’s a crushed tin can?’ I started to bawl.”
A Sunwing representative allegedly refused to give Finlay an identification tag for her wheelchair unless she was checking it in. The couple said they watched the airport empty out and were the last ones escorted through customs.
“They basically interrogated me like I was a terrorist,” she said. “All because I was fighting for my human rights.”
When Finlay landed in Toronto on Thursday, her wheelchair was nowhere to be seen, despite hearing the aircraft crew confirm three times the item was on board the plane.
In a written statement Friday, Sunwing said it is “currently assisting a customer with the return of her specialized wheelchair that was off-loaded in error” on a flight returning from Varadero and is offering the family a full refund.
“When this issue was brought to our attention, we immediately advised the customer that we would bear the costs of a replacement wheelchair while we worked to recover her own,” said Sunwing Travel Group marketing vice-president Janine Chapman, adding that the company launched an investigation. “During the course of this investigation it has become apparent that inter-departmental miscommunications have meant that our usual high standards of customer care were not observed.”
Arrangements are being made to have Finlay’s wheelchair returned on Saturday before noon, Chapman said.
Finlay said she hopes she sees her wheelchair intact, delivered at her doorstep. But until then, she has to rely on her husband “to be my legs.”
She said she will never go back to Cuba or fly Sunwing again.
“If I was given a free vacation to Cuba, I wouldn’t even give it to my worst enemy,” Finlay said. “Especially someone who is disabled.”

Is this what they mean by people-to-people Cuba school trips?

From an article in The Daily News:

Who needs the three Rs?

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Two seniors from scandal-scarred Poly Prep shared a hooker, booze and cigars on a school-financed “rite of passage” Cuban getaway hosted by a top school official, a stunning new lawsuit charges.
While the 31-page Brooklyn state Supreme Court suit didn’t name the students, one was identified as the son of a famous musician who “became a generous supporter of the school via his charity contests.”
Numerous reports have cited the charity concerts given for Poly Prep Country Day School by rocker Jon Bon Jovi, whose son Jesse Bongiovi graduated from Poly Prep two years ago.
A spokesman for the Garden State singer-songwriter declined to address the wild allegations in the lawsuit or confirm that the musician’s son was on the trip.
“We never comment on Jon’s family,” said Jon Bon Jovi’s publicist, Ken Sunshine.
The suit filed Thursday by Lisa Della Pietra also alleged the debauchery in Cuba was covered up by the school “to protect a ‘high profile’ celebrity parent of a student who attended the Cuba trip.”
She’s seeking damages from Poly Prep for retaliating against her for blowing the whistle and for alleged bullying by the school’s development director Steven Andersen — identified as the host of the Cuba trip which she learned about in the summer of 2013.
Andersen’s son Sebastian was the second youth on the trip, a source told the Daily News.

Bongiovi and Sebastian Andersen are close friends, with Jesse tagging Andersen in a 2012 Facebook post with the word “Cuba” and a map of the island nation.
In December 2012, Sebastian posted a gorgeous photo of the Caribbean with the caption “that view from the penthouse in Cuba.”
According to the lawsuit, the elder Andersen “paid a prostitute to entertain the students as a ‘rite of passage,’ and drank alcohol to excess and smoked Cuban cigars with them.”
When a Poly alum threatened to expose Andersen’s salacious behavior, the development director paid hush money taken from the school coffers to insure the man’s silence, the lawsuit charged.
School parents learned about the raunchy Cuban getaway after the two students bragged about their boozing and sexual exploits upon returning to Brooklyn, the lawsuit charged.
Calls to Poly Prep headmaster David Harman for comment were not returned, but the school later sent a letter to its alumni denouncing Della Pietra as a “disgruntled employee.”
“We believe her claims are without merit and lack any substantive legal foundation,” said the letter, signed by Harmon and Board of Trustees chairman Scott Smith. “Poly Prep intends to defend itself vigorously.”
Della Pietra, a 1986 graduate of Poly Prep, returned to handle fund-raising for the elite Brooklyn school.

The lawsuit said her tormentor Andersen received a $341,117 salary, along with perks that included a house on campus, a car and free tuition for his two children.
The true purpose of his Cuban adventure was to scope out an investment that Andersen hoped would become his “nest egg,” Della Pietra charged in her court filing.
The school conducted nothing but a “sham” investigation once Della Pietra made her charges, the suit claimed.
School officials, despite promises to protect her, told Andersen about her whistleblowing — and he allegedly struck back.
Andersen “began a campaign of retaliation and bullying . . . including verbal rants and threats, stripping plaintiff of her job responsibilities,” the suit said.
In December 2012, Poly Prep Country Day School settled a landmark lawsuit claiming its longtime football coach sexually abused hundreds of boys over a 25-year period — with officials covering up the abuse.
The explosive 2009 suit claimed school officials knew coach Phil Foglietta was a sexual predator, but ignored repeated complaints to protect the institution’s athletic reputation and fund-raising efforts.
In her lawsuit, Pietra noted that Andersen coached football alongside Foglietta for 20 years. The suit does not allege sexual misconduct by Andersen.    The Daily News

As expected: Obama takes Cuba off list of state sponsors of terrorism

The United States has taken Cuba off the list of state sponsors of terrorism, a step that authorities in Havana had insisted upon in advance of the reopening of embassies.
U.S. Secretary of State John F. Kerry signed the order Friday, 45 days after the Obama administration informed Congress that it would remove Cuba from the list. The State Department determined Cuba had not supported international terrorism in the previous six months, a requirement for getting off the list that now holds only three names — Iran, Syria and Sudan. Cuba had been on it since 1982.
“While the United States has significant concerns and disagreements with a wide range of Cuba’s policies and actions, these fall outside the criteria relevant to the rescission of a State Sponsor of Terrorism designation,” said Jeff Rathke, a spokesman for the State Department.
Removing the terror designation lifts some trade barriers against Cuba, but an overall embargo remains in effect and requires a congressional vote to reverse it. President Obama has said he hopes to work with Congress to get the embargo lifted.
Until then, the action taken Friday will not provide a huge economic boost. It could, however, encourage some international companies and banks to do business in Cuba, as they will no longer fear running afoul of U.S. laws.
Obama and Cuban President Raúl Castro announced a historic decision to renew relations last December, and since then representatives of the two countries have met four times to iron out issues that would allow them to reestablish diplomatic relations, open full-fledged embassies and exchange ambassadors
Both countries closed their embassies in 1961, but each has maintained pared-down interests sections in the other’s capital.
It is not clear how much longer it will taken before the embassies re-open. Last week, Cuban and U.S. officials said they still needed to settle some other issues. Washington has been particularly concerned that its diplomats have the ability to travel throughout Cuba and meet with Cubans without fear they will be harassed for speaking with Americans.
The removal of Cuba from the terrorism list addresses one of Havana’s key demands. Though it used to support left-wing insurgencies in other countries, it viewed the designation as an affront.
This month a small bank in Florida agreed, at the request of the State Department, to allow the Cuban interests section in Washington to open an account. That means it no longer has to pay its bills in cash.

The Washington Post

The Mystery of Venezuela’s Missing Coins

From an article in Forbes:

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I wrote a couple of days ago about how some part of Venezuela’s coinage is now worth more as scrap metal than it is as money. To the point that you’d probably do better by going and getting change from a bank rather than robbing it. All of which has led to some interesting follow ons.
This is entirely normal in places with high inflation rates. I’ve seen it happen before in Russia for example. As coins become worth nothing, in the sense that they cannot in fact purchase anything, people simply stop using them.
However, there’s another part to this: where are all those coins going? There’s two possible assumptions: the first is just that they’re in change jars all over the country. That is a possibility. The other is that they’re being trucked over the border or something to a place where people can get the metals value rather than the currency value. For, as I showed (without too much accuracy but it’s a good enough number) the one bolivar coins are now worth about $7,000 US dollars a tonne as scrap metal and $300 dollars a tonne as one bolivar coins. That’s the sort of arbitrage opportunity that people do indeed take advantage of: again, something I saw in Russia decades back.
But here’s where it starts to get weird. A lovely little piece of digging by Steven Bodzin tells us that the Venezuelan mint is still producing these one bolivar coins. The evidence isn’t conclusive to be sure, but the mint is recording that the number of one bolivar coins in circulation went up by 8 million or so in one recent month.
Just to do the math here: there’s 125,000 one bolivar coins to a tonne, so 8 million coins is 64 tonnes of coins. But given our rough metals value (and again, is is a rough value) of $7,000 a tonne then that’s half a million dollars worth of metal that has been turned into coins. Those coins having a value of perhaps $20,000. Or, if you prefer, that’s a net loss to the mint of $480,000 from making coins. Or, in the more technical jargon, that’s reverse seigniorage.
We should note by the way that it’s not uncommon for very small coins to cost more to manufacture than they are worth. A US penny costs more than one penny to make. But that’s a rather different calculation. That’s including all of the costs of manufacturing and distribution. The metals value of one US cent is very much less than one US cent. Here, in the Venezuelan example, the metals value of one bolivar is very much higher than one bolivar.
But this then gives us something of a mystery. If those one bolivar coins are being produced then they must be going somewhere. But where? They don’t seem to be going onto the streets as no one is using them. Bodzin speculates that they might never actually go into circulation:
“Hannah then asks, again on Twitter, where they all went. My guess, as I mentioned a couple years ago, is that they get sold for scrap metal, most likely before ever leaving the mint.
Could be. They might all be languishing in bank vaults, in those change jars even. I am not trying to decide here between those theories: rather, just to outline what would be very interesting to know. If no one in Venezuela is using one bolivar coins and the mint is continuing to make them, well, where are they going?
And the larger point is of course that isn’t it a marvel that a government can screw up so badly that they actually lose money on making money? The public policy lesson of which is whatever it is that you want to do to make the poor better off, a noble goal in itself, we should be using Venezuela as an example of what not to do, a guide to things that don’t work, not as some here in Europe (Syriza and Podemos come to mind) think, as examples to be followed.

Obama visited the Ermita de la Caridad

After everything he has done to support the Cuban dictatorship, President Obama went to visit the shrine to Cuba’s patron saint on Thursday.

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According to the White House, Obama wanted to “pay his respects to the Cuban-American diaspora that worship there,” according to a White House statement. “He will honor the sacrifices that Cuban-Americans have made in their pursuit of liberty and opportunity, as well as their extraordinary contributions to our country.”

After the brief visit, Obama went back to Washington to continue giving the Castro brothers everything they need in order to continue in power exploiting and enslaving 11 million Cubans.

Cuba detains Tania Bruguera with Havana Biennial in full swing. How will the art world react?

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Watch a video of the arrest: Click here

The latest edition of the Havana Biennial kicked off Friday, but the Cuban artist everyone is talking about does not have a piece in the show.
Tania Bruguera was once again detained by the authorities on Sunday afternoon after staging a performance at her Havana home, in which she and others read passages from Hannah Arendt’s “The Origins of Totalitarianism.” A video by the civil rights group Patriotic Union of Cuba, embedded in this post, records the moment in which state security agents approach her on the street.
All of it raises questions about Bruguera’s continuing legal limbo. The artist is a Cuban national, but as an internationally recognized artist, she spends much of her time teaching and staging her work abroad. She returned to Cuba in December and was first detained just before New Year’s Eve for attempting to stage a performance about freedom of expression in Havana’s iconic Revolution Square.
The Cuban government hasn’t formally filed any charges against her, but Bruguera had her passport confiscated, and it has yet to be returned. For the time being, she is unable to leave Cuba.
But artist Paul Ramirez Jonas says it’s not too late for the curators and artists who are in Havana to do something. In a Facebook status update he called on the international art community members present in Cuba to take action: “If you are in Havana please don’t act like it is business as usual — because it isn’t. Ask every government official, curator, and (why not) the artists, as well, about Tania.”
“Many of us who chose not to participate in the Biennial or related shows have done what we could from the outside,” he adds. “If you are in Cuba now is your chance to do something.”
Bruguera couldn’t be reached for comment. But in a taped interview with the a reporter from the Cuban news website Martí shortly after she was released, she sounds firm in her mission to make art that touches a nerve — whether it’s in Cuba or anywhere else.
“When they were going to take me, I turned around to everyone who was there and said, ‘Don’t shout,'” she says. “Nothing. Don’t do anything. This is nonviolent.”

Los Angeles Times

Nearly 200 Cuban Dissidents Arrested, Nobody Cares #ThanksObama

Via Capitol Hill Cubans:

Nearly 200 Cuban dissidents were arrested throughout the island yesterday.
In Havana, four dozen members of The Ladies in White were arrested as they attended Sunday Mass. Also arrested were male supporters, including democracy leaders Antonio Rodiles, Angel Moya and independent journalist Juan Gonzalez Febles.
In Santiago, over 80 activists of the Cuban Patriotic Union (UNPACU) were beaten and arrested, including some who had been released under the Obama-Castro December 17th deal, namely Diango and Bianko Vargas Martin, and Ernesto Tamayo Guerra.
Dozens of others were arrested in the interior provinces, including Raul Borges, father of political prisoner Ernesto Borges, and youth activists from the Cuban Reflection Movement.
And renowned artist Tania Bruguera, who had her passport confiscated in December and is unable to leave the island, was arrested as she approached the Museum of Fine Arts to attend an exhibit for the Havana Art Biennial.
But sadly, no one seems to care.
Obama is too focused on what other concessions he can give to Raul Castro in exchange for an Embassy.
D.C. lobbyists are too busy lobbying for Castro’s “military-tourist” complex (as The Financial Times’ John Paul Rathbone succinctly called the Cuban military’s monopolistic control over the island’s tourism industry).
And the media continues obsessing over the “old world charm” of Cuba’s totalitarian dictatorship.
Meanwhile, in Castro-controlled Venezuela, internationally renowned political prisoner and former Mayor, Daniel Ceballos, has been transferred from a military prison to one of the most violent civilian prisons in the world.
And Leopoldo Lopez, the famed opposition leader, began a hunger strike to demand the release of his colleagues, whose lives are in danger.
This, despite the fact that there’s no embargo and that the U.S. is Venezuela’s main trading partner.
Yet, the silence from the international community is deafening — debunking all of Obama’s theories about how his new Cuba policy would purportedly bring support for rights and democracy.
As for legislative elections in Venezuela this Fall — wishful thinking. “Elections, for what?” says Maduro. After all, Obama just embraced Cuba’s military dictatorship.
And where are the Congressional junkets to Caracas?
Impunity clearly reigns supreme in the region.