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Spirit Airlines Latest To Pull Out Of Cuba

Travel Pulse

Spirit Airlines became the fifth airline to either cut back or end service to Cuba when it announced it will discontinue flights from Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International to Havana on May 31.
Spirit has had the service for just four months, ultimately learning – like other airlines – that demand for Cuba has fallen off coupled with initial high expectations by the airlines that Americans would embrace one of the last great travel frontiers.
The Obama administration restored diplomatic relations with Cuba two years ago and softened the travel restrictions to the island nation, leading to eight airlines chosen by the Department of Transportation to begin flying to Cuba last summer.
But after an initial surge, demand has waned.
Subsequently, American Airlines reduced service in November, Jet Blue announced it will switch to smaller aircraft next month and reduce the number of daily seats to Cuba, Silver Airways cut service altogether in March, and Frontier is eliminating its one route from Miami to Havana in June.
Spirit will offer once-daily service to Cuba from May 3 to May 24, and then twice-daily flights between May 25 and May 31. Passengers who booked flights after May 31 will receive a full refund.
“The costs of serving Havana continue to outweigh the demand for service,” Spirit said in a statement. “Due to overcapacity and the additional costs associated with flying to Cuba, we don’t find it sustainable to continue this service while maintaining our commitment to pass along ultra-low fares to our customers.”

Violence at parade highlights escalating Venezuela protests


It was meant to be a moment of celebration, the commemoration of one of the major milestones that led to Venezuela’s independence from its Spanish colonizers 200 years ago. Tuesday’s bicentennial festivities for the Battle of San Felix included a military parade and the inauguration of a new public square, which filled the streets of Ciudad Guayana.
As night fell, President Nicolas Maduro rode through the city in an open-top Jeep, waving at the crowd while wearing green military garb and the presidential sash. State-run broadcaster VTV showed a livestream of the event on national television.

Suddenly, President Maduro motioned to cover his head and his security team hopped on the hood of the Jeep. The live signal cut to the image of the newly unveiled statue of local hero Gen. Manuel Piar, but the microphone picked up audio of an agitated woman yelling “wait, wait — the President was hit.”
Within minutes, videos appeared on social media sites showing another angle. Maduro and his entourage had been pelted by what some identified as eggs and trash. In one video, the man filming can be heard yelling “damn you!” at the end.
While the scene was unusual, it wasn’t surprising. Since the beginning of April, massive protests have formed in the capital Caracas and other major cities calling for Maduro’s resignation and for the government to set a date for the delayed state elections. This comes as the country faces a crippling economic crisis, which has nearly bankrupted the oil giant and led to national shortages of food and medicine.
Bloody protests
At least four people have been killed and hundreds injured in the wave of violent protests that have rocked the country since April 1.
In the city of Valencia, 20-year-old student Daniel Alejandro Queliz died Monday when a bullet struck him in the neck during a protest.
Enrique Moreno, 19, said he was present at what he described as a “peaceful protest” and said he was “just a few meters away” from Queliz when police began to open fire.
“They (the police) wouldn’t stop shooting at us, so we decided to run into one of the nearby residential buildings to hide. I was able to run and, thank God, none of the bullets reached me,” Moreno said. “By the time Daniel started running, he had already been hit. I turned around and he asked me for help. I wanted to help, but the bullets kept flying. We tried to tell them a student had been hurt, but they kept shooting at us.”
The office of Venezuela’s attorney general said Wednesday that two of the officers involved in the incident have been arrested and are expected to face criminal charges.

Cuban migration at sea has plummeted since Obama ended ‘wet-foot, dry-foot’ policy, top Coast Guard officer says

The Washington Post

The Coast Guard’s top officer said Wednesday that the number of migrants intercepted at sea by his service off the coast of Florida has plummeted since January, largely a symptom of President Barack Obama ending the so-called wet-foot, dry-foot policy with Cuba a week before he left office.

Adm. Paul Zukunft, commandant of the Coast Guard, said the sea service has intercepted fewer than 100 migrants since the Jan. 12 announcement, after detaining more than 10,000 migrants off the coast of Florida in 2016. The policy generally allowed Cubans who made it to American soil to pursue legal residency but was eliminated following Obama’s decision to restore relations with Cuba for the first time since 1961.

The policy, established by President Bill Clinton, for years gave Cubans hope that if they could make the 90-mile trip by sea, they could become Americans. But many of them did so in makeshift craft that capsized or sunk, creating crises at sea. If they did not make it all the way to Florida, U.S. authorities typically detained and returned them to their homeland.

Zukunft said Obama’s decision has curtailed the number of dangerous situations the Coast Guard saw in the region, especially when migrants did something rash in an effort to make to the United States.

“I’m talking self-mutilation, self-inflicted gunshot wounds, very desperate measures so that they would be evacuated to a hospital in the United States and then be declared feet-dry and then paroled in the United States,” Zukunft said. “We would have interdictions where they would threaten to drown a baby if we were to stop them.”

The number of migrants spiked in anticipation of Obama changing the policy before he left office. Prior to his decision, the Coast Guard said it intercepted 3,376 migrants off the coast of Florida in fiscal 2014 and 2,094 in fiscal 2013. Of those 3,376 migrants, 2,059 came from Cuba, with people from Haiti and the Dominican Republican making up the bulk of the rest.

Guy W. Farmer: Venezuela is a socialist paradise

Guy W Farmer is a retired diplomat

Venezuela, a country where I lived and worked for seven years during my U.S. Foreign Service career, and where my beautiful daughter Maria was born, is on the brink of collapse, thanks to the pernicious effects of the late President Hugo Chavez’s socialist revolution.

When Col. Chavez took office in 1999 after leading a failed coup attempt in 1992 (for which he served two years in prison), he promised Venezuelans would soon be living in a socialist paradise. And now, four years after his death, a once-thriving South American democracy has become an international basket case. As Peruvian journalist Alvaro Vargas Llosa — the son of Nobel Prize-winning author Mario Vargas Llosa — wrote earlier this month, “Four years after Chavez’s death, Venezuela’s descent into the abyss is one of the truly tragic events of the 21st century.” Well said!

Let’s examine the abyss into which Venezuela has fallen under the failed leadership of Chavez and his designated successor, Nicolas Maduro, a former bus driver. Alvaro Vargas Llosa wrote Maduro has tried to turn the anniversary of Chavez’s death “into a mystical experience of sorts — and a dose of much-needed political oxygen.” That’s difficult to accomplish, however, “in a country with inflation predicted to run at 1,600 percent, an economic growth rate of negative ten percent, a painful shortage of basic stuff (including toilet paper), and the highest crime rate in the world.”

Other than that, socialism has been a big success in Venezuela. I’m amazed some American celebrities like left-wing filmmaker Oliver Stone and actor Sean Penn still champion Chavez’s failed revolution. If they still love it so much, they should move to Venezuela. I suppose they could live without toilet paper and basic foodstuffs like meat, but it wouldn’t be like their gilded, pampered lives in Hollywood.

When I arrived in Venezuela’s capital, Caracas, for the first time in 1968, it was the “City of Eternal Spring” awash in petro-dollars thanks to its immense oil reserves. But when I left Venezuela for the second time in mid-1990 the nation was suffering from a downward economic spiral and Chavez was plotting an unsuccessful coup attempt. What a contrast from my early years in Caracas, when in 1969 I witnessed the first peaceful transition of power between competing Venezuelan political parties. That was a shining moment for the emerging democracies of Latin America.

Three-quarters of Venezuelans tell pollsters they repudiate their own government. Nevertheless, Maduro remains in power by bribing the military and because the democratic opposition is deeply divided. According to Alvaro Vargas Llosa, Maduro and the Venezuelan military are engaged in “a Mafia-style complicity in crime,” including drug trafficking. That became clear in February when the U.S. Justice Department imposed sanctions against Venezuelan Vice President Tareck el-Aissami and canceled his visa “for playing a significant role in international drug trafficking.” I rest my case.

Earlier this year a National Survey of Living Conditions conducted by three universities found 72 percent of Venezuelans lost an average of 19 pounds each in 2016, and the average shopper spent more than 35 hours per month waiting to buy groceries. Maduro’s response to a 2014 nationwide protest was to order his military and police to attack the protesters, 40 of whom were killed during several weeks of unrest. On and on it goes three years later.

I always have two questions about Third World countries in crisis: (1) Who has the guns? and (2) Who counts the votes? In Venezuela the answers are the same: President Nicolas Maduro. Good luck to the brave Venezuelans who are trying to remove him from office.

Cuba’s premium gas shortage leaves diplomats stuck


When they are not tending to international affairs, diplomats based in Havana can be found these days stewing in interminable lines at gas stations and concocting ways to increase the octane in fuel as Cuba’s premium gasoline shortage takes its toll.

Cuba sent around an internal memo last week advising that it would restrict sales of high-octane, so-called “special fuel,” in April. That is not an issue for most Cuban drivers, whose vintage American cars and Soviet-era Ladas use regular fuel.

But it is for the embassies that use modern cars whose engines could be damaged by the fuel at most Havana gas stations. So the diplomats are taking a leaf out of the book of Cubans, used to such shortages, and becoming resourceful.

Given the U.S. trade embargo, Cubans have for decades had to invent new ways to keep their cars on the road, replacing original engines with Russian ones and using homemade parts.

“I bought octane booster, and the embassy has bought lubricants, meant to help the motor deal with rubbish gasoline,” said one north European diplomat, who got a relative to bring the booster in his luggage given it is unavailable in Cuba.

“At the moment we are using the car that runs on diesel, so we can ‘survive’,” said an Eastern European diplomat.

Cuba has not announced the measure officially yet. According to the memo, “the special fuel remaining in stock at gas stations from April will only be sold in cash and to tourists until the inventory is depleted.”

“It’s very serious. I have already suspended a trip to Santiago de Cuba for fear of lack of gas,” said one Latin American diplomat, adding that it seemed like the problem would last. “Diplomats are very worried.”

Some embassies in Havana have people scouting out which stations still have some higher-octane fuel and are sending around regular updates to staff. One gas station worker said they were getting small deliveries of fuel each day still.

The embassies are also advising people to carpool or use the diplomatic shuttle.

Meanwhile the European Union has requested from the ministry of foreign affairs that one or more service centers be set aside for diplomats with special gas, according to a European diplomat.

Cuba has become increasingly reliant on its socialist ally Venezuela for refined oil products but the latter has faced its own fuel shortage in recent weeks.

Meanwhile, the Communist-ruled island cannot easily replace subsidized Venezuelan supplies as it is strapped for cash.

Although the memo referred to April, it is not clear how long the shortage will last. Cubans joke that once something disappears in Cuba, it is never to return, referring to products that have disappeared from their ration book like cigarettes, beef and condensed milk.

The Peugeot dealership in Havana has sent its clients lists of technical tips on how to protect their motors while using lower-grade gasoline, including more frequent maintenance and ensuring vehicles at running at optimum temperature before driving.

The shortage is also impacting others using modern cars such as taxi drivers, tourists and workers at joint ventures.


Venezuelans Take to the Streets after Chavista Court Eliminates Congress’ Legislative Powers


Venezuelans are blocking highways and taking to the streets in response to an apparent Coup d’Etat.

Though Maduro’s regime arranged anti-riot measures in several Venezuelan cities, hundreds of Venezuelans turned out to express their opposition to the Supreme Court’s ruling that dissolved the powers of the country’s congress.

Caracas, Los Teques, Vargas, Carabobo and Anzoátegui are just some of the states where protests are taking place.

In Urbina, Caracas — a popular area that has traditionally been faithful to Chavez — is now flooded with protesters.

“No more dictatorship,” they are reportedly chanting. “We want freedom.”

During the protests, members of the student movement were pushed back from the main headquarters of the Supreme Court of Justice in Caracas and the Bolivarian National Guard reportedly detained two students.

Student Leader Hasler Iglesias said the students arrested are Andres Olivero and Rafael Alvarez from the Central University of Venezuela.

Cameraman for the TV channel Vivoplay, Andry Rincon, was detained for 30 minute.

Since protestors were not allowed to demonstrate at the TSJ, students went to the Palace of Justice. When they arrived, they were attacked, and three more protesters were arrested.

The opposition has called for protests in the country’s streets this Saturday as well.

“This is the time to stand up,” said President of the Parliament and Opposition Leader Julio Borges.

Also, the Popular Will party has urged Venezuelans to resume demonstrations in the street so as to “impose the will of the people.”

Even renowned singer Jose Ignacio Mendoza — also know as “Nacho” — said he is ready to travel to Venezuela “to take to the streets.”

“Should I ignore this and force myself to not care to avoid taking the risk that gangs turn on me?” He said. “Sorry, I do care. I’m ready to go to Venezuela to take the streets when the majority of Venezuelans decide. I’m not a politician. Beyond being an artist I’m a citizen demanding democracy.

The TSJ ruled in favor of Maduro’s administration, deciding that the opposition majority congress will be held in contempt and no longer be allowed to carry out its legislative duties.

The judicial ruling said that “as long as contempt and invalidity of the proceedings of the National Assembly persist, this Constitutional Chamber shall ensure that parliamentary powers are exercised directly by this Chamber or by the body that it deems suitable, to ensure the Rule of Law. ”

Venezuelan Military Beat Up Congressmen Denouncing Chavista Coup


After hearing the ruling of the highest court in Venezuela in which the approved the annulment of the Parliament, members of Congress protested and held a press conference outside of the court. In the midst of this, the Venezuelan military struck members of Congress.

Officers of the National Guard physically assaulted several deputies who only expressed their opposition to the court’s ruling. The deputies attacked were Marco Bozo, Carlos Paparoni, and Juan Requesens.

The National Assembly’s board of directors called Judgment 156 of the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court of Justice (TSJ) as a coup d’etat in which it ruled that the judiciary would assume full parliamentary powers.

“This is a coup, it is a dictatorship and in all the nations of the world, all the alarms must be turned on. This National Assembly does not know the TSJ. This Assembly refuses to recognize and ignores this sentence of the Supreme Court,” emphasized Borges.

“We were chosen by 14 million Venezuelans … You are not going to go unpunished, we are going to make denunciations inside and outside Venezuela for your crimes against humanity,” he said.

He also commented “What is the difference of this sentence with the previous ones? That this sentence grants all the powers to Nicolás Maduro to make the laws that he pleases.”

Borges called on the Bolivarian National Armed Forces (FANB) to ignore the last two rulings of the Supreme Court of Justice and restore Constitutional order.

The president of the National Assembly, Julio Borges, announced in the wake of the Supreme Court’s recent ruling, that the opposition will take to the streets in protest. The first will take place this Saturday, April 1.

“We call for different street actions in which we hope the people will accompany us. We know that there is fear and repression but this is the time to make your voice heard,” he stated.

The Supreme Court, which has heavily favored the regime of Nicolás Maduro, ruled that the National Assembly, in which the opposition enjoys a large majority, will no longer exercise its function, because they supposedly remain in contempt of the court.

The judicial ruling declares the “National Assembly out of Constitutional order” and warns that “as long as the contempt and invalidity of the proceedings of the National Assembly persists, this Constitutional Chamber shall ensure that the parliamentary powers are exercised directly by this Chamber, in order to ensure the rule of law.”

Another “dream” vacation in Castroland

Global News

Ontario regulator says travellers to Cuban resort without water have legal rights

Canadian travellers who ended up at a Cuba hotel that had little or no water for 12 days can file complaints with Ontario’s travel industry watchdog or sue in small claims court, according to the organization that regulates the province’s travel companies.

The Travel Industry Council of Ontario, known as TICO, governs licenced travel companies and enforces the province’s Travel Industry Act.

“We ask that consumers approach the travel company involved first to allow the company the opportunity to address the matter to the consumer’s satisfaction,” said Dorian Werda, TICO’s vice president of operations, while responding to questions raised by Global News about why travel agencies and tour operators continued to sell package vacations to the Starfish Cayo Santa Maria resort in Cuba in early March when the water system there wasn’t functioning.

Travellers told Global News they had little or no fresh water for their entire trip to the resort, making it impossible to flush toilets, take showers or wash their hands.

Some, like Donna Carvalho of Georgetown, Ont., returned to Canada and went almost immediately to hospital with severe diarrhea, vomiting and an excruciating headache. Carvalho was placed in isolation for five hours and released after she said doctors concluded she had likely become ill from unsanitary conditions at the resort.

Carvalho said she witnessed the hotel restaurant using a “dirty rag” to clean dishes, cutlery and glassware in lieu of a dishwasher. Other travellers described similar nauseating experiences.

“The dishes were often filthy and we witnessed people bathing in and around the pool. We tried not to think about just how unsanitary it all was, but now thinking of it – gross,” said Gary Pearson of Lindsay, Ont., who was on vacation with his girlfriend and staying at the Starfish resort.
“In Canada, if a school doesn’t have running water they close. If a restaurant doesn’t have running water, they close. However, this resort continued to check in new guests. Walking downwind from the restaurants filled our noses with a very unpleasant odour of rotting food, clearly from a lack of cleaning with limited water available,” said Pearson.

Continue reading Another “dream” vacation in Castroland

Christie renews call for cop killer’s return from Cuba

Joanne Chesimard

Now that a friend and fellow Republican is leading the country, Gov. Chris Christie is urging the White House to demand the return of a convicted cop-killer who fled to Cuba four decades ago.

Joanne Chesimard, a leader of the Black Liberation Army, was convicted on March 25, 1977, of eight counts of murder, robbery and assault in the killing of State Trooper Werner Foerster on the New Jersey Turnpike in 1973. Six years later, in 1979, Chesimard escaped and fled to Cuba, where she has lived in political asylum since. She now goes by the name Assata Shakur.

In 2015, when then-President Barack Obama reopened relations between the United States and Cuba, there was hope that Chesimard would be returned to finish her life sentence. But she remains free today, even though the Obama administration said her return would be part of diplomatic negotiations with the communist regime.

Appearing Friday night on Fox News Channel’s “Tucker Carlson Tonight,” Christie said “it’s outrageous” that Chesimard lives in freedom, and he pressed the administration of President Donald Trump to fight for her extradition to the U.S.

“I hope that what the Trump Administration is going to do is, before we take any further steps with a relationship with Cuba, that they say, ‘Listen, first and foremost, return this fugitive from justice back to New Jersey so that she can rightfully serve the rest of her term for murdering a police officer,'” said Christie, a friend and supporter of Trump. “I think this is something that Secretary of State [Rex] Tillerson and others in the Trump Administration should make a top priority in any dealings they have with Cuba,” Christie added.

Christie’s interview with Carlson was brief, about five minutes. But he confirmed what many lawmakers and intelligence officials have already said over the last few weeks about Trump’s claims that Obama wiretapped his phones.

“There certainly doesn’t seem to be any evidence of that at this point,” Christie, a former federal prosecutor, said. He added, “We’ll continue to listen, but I can tell you from my experience that kind of stuff is really difficult to get.”

Christie also declined to indulge in speculation, stoked by Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway, that he could end up with a job in the White House someday. His term as governor ends in January.

“Will I ever go work there? I have no idea,” Christie said. “I don’t have a crystal ball.”

Joanne Chesimard