Category Archives: Tourism in Cuba

A £25,000 wedding from Hell in Cuba: Hotel roof collapsed on top of bride, groom and guests

Click here to se many more photos The Sun

WEDDING FROM HELL Couple left distraught after dream £25,000 Cuba wedding turns to disaster when hotel roof COLLAPSED leaving bride permanently scarred and groom with broken ribs
Sarah and John Wenham were both injured the day before the wedding of their dreams

A BRIDE and groom had their dream wedding destroyed after the roof of their hotel lobby collapsed – trapping their family and guests under debris.

Sarah and John Wenham had saved for years for ‘the wedding of their dreams’ in Cuba, costing more than £25,000 for themselves and 24 guests.

But they were left fearing for their lives when the lobby roof at Sol Rio De Luna y Mares Hotel, in Cuba, suddenly buckled and collapsed – trapping them underneath and injuring many members of the wedding party, including the bride.

Sarah, 35, said: “We were just about to meet with hotel staff to discuss our wedding plans in the lobby, when John pointed out the ceiling as it started to move.

“A loud ‘bang’ followed as the roof then suddenly collapsed and fell upon us, trapping us underneath.”

Tour company Thomas Cook have now apologised for the incident in August last year, saying they had done “everything we could” to support the family.

Sarah relived the horror, saying that roof debris knocked the group “clean to the ground”.

She said: “It was so heavy that I couldn’t move under it, and I was terrified because I couldn’t get to my daughters who I could hear screaming from somewhere beneath the debris.

“I saw the blood start to gush from my head and I genuinely thought in that moment that I was going to die.”

John, from Gravesend, Kent, says he looked up after they had been in the lobby for around ten minutes to find the ceiling moving.

He shouted at Sarah and their nine-year-old daughter Mia to run, pushing them out of the way.

But as the ceiling fell, he leaped in front of baby Penny, 20-months, to shield her from the debris, taking the brunt of the weight.

John added: “It was horrifying – sheer fright.

“When we eventually found Sarah, it took two people to lift the debris off her and I had to crawl underneath and drag her out.

“After the incident, we were all traumatised.

“We didn’t know what to do for the best.

“In one split-second everything we’d planned and saved for so long was gone.

“We felt terrible that so many people had spent so much money and had travelled so far to be with us for our special day and then this happened.

“So when we were told that the wedding could still go ahead at another venue at the last minute, we felt we had no option but to go ahead with it.

“Unfortunately, we’ll now always remember the wedding as being a distraction from the horrifying events of the day before.

“We couldn’t enjoy it and we just wanted to go home.

“That’s not how we should remember our wedding day.”

John was left with two fractured ribs, an injured spleen and severe bruising.

Sarah suffered head and eye injuries and required ten stitches to a deep laceration on her face, which is now likely to leave a permanent scar.

Several other members of the wedding party suffered serious injuries, including head and spinal injuries, a leg fracture and a deep head laceration, with one guest requiring 19 stitches across the top of her scalp.

John said: “The only way we could get over it was to have the wedding, to try and mask what had happened.

“Sarah won’t look at the pictures because she’s got stitches on her face – it shouldn’t be like that.

“I couldn’t walk properly, I couldn’t lift her over threshold and I couldn’t even pick the kids up for five to six weeks.”

When the couple did have their ceremony at a different hotel, Playa Pesquero, it was in the foyer, and not the beach wedding they had planned.

But this was far from the end of the couple’s problems.

Even before the roof collapse, on just the second day of their disastrous holiday, Sarah and John’s hotel room was flooded with sewage, damaging clothes, their children’s toys and un-opened wedding gifts.

The couple say despite their bags and clothing being ruined, their belongings were never replaced.

In other rooms there were exposed wires which John, an electrician, described as looking ‘deadly’.

John and many of the other guests, including Mia and Penny, also suffered from diarrhoea and sickness throughout the holiday – later confirmed to be salmonella.

The couple have now instructed personal injury lawyers at Irwin Mitchell to take legal action against tour operator, Thomas Cook.

Jennifer Lund, a partner in the specialist international personal injury team at Irwin Mitchell, representing the group, said: “Sarah, John and their closest family and friends should have been overjoyed on what was supposed to have been an incredible holiday, centred around a magical wedding day.

“Instead, the whole trip ended up being a terrifying ordeal that will forever be etched in their memories for all of the wrong reasons.

“We are investigating the cause of the roof collapse at the Sol Rio De Luna y Mares Hotel as well as the group’s other complaints.

“We are seeking to recover a settlement to help each of our clients with their recovery and to compensate them following the dreadful ordeal they have suffered.

“Our thoughts are with all of those injured, and we wish them a speedy recovery.

“We would be grateful to hear from anyone who may have witnessed the roof collapse or its aftermath or who can provide information about illnesses suffered by guests during stays at the Sol Rio De Luna y Mares Hotel, as they may be able to help with our enquiries.”

A Thomas Cook spokesperson said: “Clearly this is totally unacceptable and we are in close contact with the hotel to understand how it happened.

“We are very sorry and disappointed that this occurred on what should have been such a happy occasion.

“We did everything we could to support the Wenham family and all those affected after the accident, and we continue to take this matter very seriously.”

Why Are Celebrities So Deluded When It Comes To Cuba?

Daily Beast 

On social media, celebrities laud the quaint poverty of Cuba while ignoring that real life for most Cubans is a daily grind of hustling for money and food.

During vacation in Cuba last week, Victoria’s Secret Angel Sara Sampaio posed for a photo in jean cut-offs and a light blue denim shirt next to one of the island’s old-fashioned, candy-colored cars, then shared it with her 4.5 million followers on Instagram. “When in Cuba match ur clothes with the cars,” the 25-year-old Portuguese model wrote in the photo’s caption.
The old car as photo-op has become a tourism cliché in Havana, particularly among the style-obsessed celebrities and fashion set—Madonna, Beyoncé and Jay Z, the Kardashians, Kate Moss, Naomi Campbell, Paris Hilton, and so on—who have visited the island in recent years, unable to resist the retro charm of Cuba’s 1950s Cadillacs.
And who can blame them for being seduced by the quaint authenticity of Cuba’s old cars and buildings, preserved over time and untouched by the hideousness of capitalism?
The island has seen a tourism boom since the U.S. and Cuba announced in 2014 that they would restore diplomatic ties, in part because warmer relations between the two countries have made it easier for Americans to get there, and in part because Westerners who have never been want to see it before Starbucks and McDonalds pop up all over the island.
So when the Kardashians flew down with their reality TV show’s camera crew last May, two months after President Obama visited Cuba (and became the first American president to do so since Calvin Coolidge), even they found this top poverty tourism destination to be rather charming.
Taking in the sights from the back of a 1957 Chevrolet convertible, Khloe Kardashian marveled at how friendly and close to nature Cubans are (“the goats are, like, people’s dogs!”) and told her chauffer she enjoyed the “real life” on display during their sightseeing tour.
It was a spectacular moment of irony, of course, given that “real life” for most Cubans is a daily grind of hustling for money and food, including a number of young women who prostitute themselves to geriatric tourists. In an interview with The New York Times after Fidel Castro’s death, one older Cuban man who lives on a $12 monthly pension said that much of the island’s’ food supply is being funneled into the tourism sector—and that he’d recently been forced to sell two antique lamps in order to pay for his next few meals. Affluent Westerners may be upset by the idea of fast food chains invading Cuba, but Cubans themselves might not mind it so much (fast food is better than no food, after all).
While many Cubans are hopeful that their country will change under President Raúl Castro now that his elder brother has died, Amnesty International’s 2015/2016 report on Cuba paints a grim picture of life for its citizens: “Government critics continued to experience harassment, ‘acts of repudiation’ (demonstrations led by government supporters with participation of state security officials), and politically motivated criminal prosecutions. Reports continued of government critics, including journalists and human rights activists, being routinely subjected to arbitrary arrests and short-term detention for exercising their rights to freedom of expression, association, assembly and movement.”
But who needs freedom of expression and economic freedom when life in Cuba is so adorably simple? Tilda Swinton said as much, exposing her own ignorance, when she attended Chanel’s Resort 2017 fashion show there in May (the Kardashians had originally planned their trip around the show as well, since Kendall Jenner was supposed to walk).
“Look, capitalism is visiting and the Cubans are doffing their caps,” she told New York magazine, “but my sense is that this is a very healthy country and any notion that they need saving by a moribund capitalist country from across the sea is just absurd.”
It’s hardly an uncommon sentiment among certain segments of the left, generous with their praise of Cuba’s free health care and education systems, along with its high literacy rates. Never mind that the number of poorly compensated Cuban medical professionals who defected to the U.S. reached a record high in 2015, or that Cuba’s literate people aren’t free to read what they want.
The irony of showing a luxury fashion collection in a country isolated from modern consumerism was apparently lost on Karl Lagerfeld, who showed his Chanel Resort 2017 collection in Havana last May. He noted that while there was no “fashion” as Westerners know it in Cuba, there was plenty of singular style to be fetishized. “Here, you can really wear jewelry,” he told New York. “Here you can smile whenever you want. It is adorable.”
Toothless smiles are considerably less “adorable” in Paris or New York. But in Old Havana, they’re as charming as the decrepit neo-classical buildings and colorful cars.
Despite fetishizing Cuba’s poverty, Lagerfeld redeemed himself when he admitted: “But of course, what do I know about Cuba? It is very childish, my idea.”
To be sure, there’s nothing wrong with Lagerfeld bringing couture to Cuba, along with a troop of fashion A-listers and stars from Gisele Bündchen to Vin Diesel. Nor is there anything wrong with Western tourists Instagramming photos of themselves next to pastel pink Chevrolets.
Bringing different cultures to Cuba is of course a good thing, and tourism is good for the economy—though Cuba’s economy can’t survive on tourism alone and has suffered since its regional benefactor, Venezuela, has been in economic freefall.
“For the first time in decades, Cubans are dealing with power outages and transportation shortages,” NPR reported in September. Tourism is up, but “they just don’t have the infrastructure to really get at all that money.”
There’s nothing wrong with the exchange of ideas through high fashion shows, but Cuba needs goods—not couture—to be exchanged in order to build up its infrastructure.
The only problem with the Kardashians et al seeing the island and its old cars as Instagram bait is that it casts Cuba in a patina of sentimental filters, obscuring the realities of life there.
Cuba is indeed a beautiful place, but the fancy tourists don’t need a vacation on the island as much as they need a lesson–and they’re not going to get it on the tourist route advertised in brochures.

American Airlines discriminates against Cuban-American crew members to satisfy the Castro regime

americanairlines

Another American company violating the right of Cuban-Americans in order to obey the stupid laws of Cuba’s dictatorship.

Shame on you American Airlines!

The Miami Herald

Cuba won’t allow Cuban-Americans flight crews to stay overnight, so an airline grounded them

When American Airlines launched the first of an unprecedented 12 daily commercial flights from Miami to six cities in Cuba, the company rolled out the Cuban-American brass to mark the milestone at Miami International Airport.

At a pre-flight ceremony, the executives evoked their emotional connection to the business at hand — winning the bid to fly the largest number of commercial flights to Cuba.

“Today is historic not only for American Airlines, but also for Miami, the heart and soul of the Cuban-American community in the United States,” said Ralph Lopez, American vice president of Miami hub operations, before the Sept. 7 departure to the city of Cienfuegos on the southern coast of the island.

Fernand Fernandez, American’s vice president of global marketing, spoke of the “pride and excitement” he felt.

“This flight is not only important to our airline, to our 12,000 employees here in Miami — many of them Cuban-American — but also… this is of huge importance for Miami-Dade County, home to so many Cuban Americans like my parents.”

Behind the scenes, however, another story played out.

When doing business with Cuba, all those American Airlines employees of Cuban origin Fernandez heralded in his speech don’t have the same rights as their U.S.-born counterparts, or their Latin-American counterparts, or their counterparts born anywhere else in the world for that matter.

That first “historic” flight brought home the point.

A Cuban-born crew member arrived in Cienfuegos without a Cuban passport — required for anyone born there who left the country after 1970, even as babies — and a brouhaha ensued with Cuban authorities on the ground. The crew member was not allowed entry, much less the required overnight rest stop after a crew member flies 12 hours.

Questions were posed by AA to authorities: What happens in the future if there’s a flight with a mechanical delay and the crew that includes a Cuban American is grounded overnight? What will happen, routinely, with the two Varadero flights that require the overnight stay of the crew?

The answer: Only in the most “extenuating circumstances” would Cuba allow an exception to its separate set of archaic travel requirements for Cuban Americans. No overnights for Cuban-American crew members. Period.

Now the Dallas-based airline, which makes its schedules far from Cuban politics in Texas, had to identify Cuban-American employees and take them off Cuba flights that required an overnight stay.

“Please remember that those who are Cuban born should be removed with pay from Cuba flights until we can verify what requirements the Cuban government has for these crewmembers,” says an AA memo to managers that a source shared with me.

And I have to ask: Can you imagine in your company a staffing memo that says, “Please remember that those who are Israeli born should be removed?”

Or, please remember that those who are (fill in the blank any other place of origin) should be removed?

The Cuban government’s long arm is cherry-picking the assignments of employees of an American company. How is that for a historic development?

Sounds as outrageous as when Miami-based Carnival Corp. denied bookings to Cuban Americans on its cruises to the island because of an archaic Cuban maritime law that said Cuban Americans could not arrive by sea.

Now with commercial flights, an American company once again finds itself in the position of having to discriminate against a class of people — their employees of Cuban origin.

“No crew member born in Cuba is allowed to enter Cuba unless they meet immigration requirements,” American spokeswoman Alexis Aran Coello confirmed. “That’s a Cuban government demand. That’s not something we’re saying. We are abiding by the laws of the Cuban government.”

Cuba’s discriminatory rules also apply, of course, to the flight crews of JetBlue and Spirit, which also recently began commercial flights, and to the others that will soon follow them.

This is the price of doing business with the still-repressive and antiquated Cuban government: Giving up American ethics for a piece of the action.

Complying with the Cuban government’s discriminatory policies against Cuban Americans — spelled out in the U.S. Embassy’s website as a warning to travelers — is a choice. Airlines need to negotiate harder. Enough of an uproar from the traveling public convinced Cuba to change its maritime rule and allow Cuban Americans to travel there on cruise ships.

On the American side, strides have been made in the last 18 months since President Barack Obama announced an end to hostilities between the two countries. But the Cuban government remains stuck in anti-exile, anti-American bellicose mode despite documented evidence that a growing number of Cuban Americans strongly support President Obama’s engagement policy and the reestablishment of relations. For the first time since 1991 Florida International University began surveying Cuban Americans, a new poll shows that a majority — 54 percent — said support the lifting of the Cuban embargo.

Cuba, however, has a long way to go to show it is seriously interested in being a travel destination for all Americans.

Perhaps customer response, if not companies, might help move the needle: Saturday’s flight on American to Cienfuegos had 53 out of 120 seats empty as of this writing. It may be the slow season, but were it not for Cuba’s restrictive policies, there might not be a single seat left.

As Americans know well, discrimination is bad for business.

Toronto man ‘scarred for life’ in robbery at Cuban resort

torontomanrobbed

Toronto Sun
A violent robbery at a Cuban resort ended Paul Sampalean’s dream vacation before it even started.

The 33-year-old construction worker also had to pay a $3,000 hospital bill before he could return to Toronto with a nasty gash on his head.

“He’s scarred for life,” Antonia Sampalean told the Toronto Sun on Friday — hours before her brother was expected to arrive back in the city.

She said the Toronto resident enjoyed his first visit to Cuba last year and decided to return to the popular vacation destination for Canadians.

“Obviously he won’t be going back there — ever again,” Antonia said.

Paul Sampalean landed in the communist country on Sept. 2 to learn his luggage was lost.

“Air Transit told him to go wait in the lobby of his hotel and his luggage would be dropped off,” Antonia said, recalling her brother’s version of events.

She said Paul remembers chatting with locals in the lobby of Sol Sirenas Coral, a four-star all-inclusive resort in Veradero.

“The locals tried to grab his wallet,” Antonia said. “There were three of them and he was alone, but he fought back.

“I wish he would have given them his wallet, but he’s not like that,” she said, adding her brother is about 5-foot-8 and 135 pounds.

Paul was knocked unconscious, but witnesses later helped him piece together some of the ordeal.

“Hotel security staff intervened,” Antonia said, adding the crooks took off with the $100 or so Paul had in his wallet.

She said her brother thinks he may have fallen and hit his head. His forehead was split open.

He was taken by ambulance to the hospital where medical personnel used a mere four stitches to close his 13-centimetre cut. Antonia said her brother is unsure what other tests were conducted during his two-day stay.

“But the hospital issued him a $3,000 dollar bill and threatened he’d be sent to jail if he refused to pay,” she alleged.Another

Her brother also told her that the initial police report allegedly stated he was “found wandering in the streets of Varadero.”

But Paul alleges that report mysteriously disappeared after four witnesses provided statements noting “the ambulance was called directly to the hotel,” she said.

After the attack, Antonia said her brother was uncomfortable having a large amount of cash on him, so she sought help from Global Affairs Canada.

Antonia sent used her credit card to send the government agency $3,100, which included a $75 special consular fee. The money was forwarded to consular officials in Cuba who then paid the hospital bill.

Paul’s luggage finally arrived at the resort four days after the robbery.

Air Transat, Global Affairs Canada and the Cuba Tourist Board in Toronto never responded to the Sun’s request for comment.

Cuba’s Tourism Thaw With the U.S. Has Been Great News for Its Military

CUBA CASTRO

Skift

One could easily argue that nothing is hindering progress more in Cuba than its government and its military’s lack of skill and experience to do even the simplest things well. It is not competent enough to run a simple tour bus or tiny restaurant, let alone a UNESCO site. — Jason Clampet

At the height of Cuba’s post-Soviet economic crisis, a man with the obscure title of city historian began transforming Havana’s crumbling historic center block by block, polishing stone facades, replacing broken stained glass and repairing potholed streets.

Over a quarter century, Eusebio Leal turned Old Havana into a painstakingly restored colonial jewel, a tourist draw that brings in more than $170 million a year, according to the most recent available figures. His office became a center of power with unprecedented budgetary freedom from the island’s communist central government.

That independence is gone. Last month, the Cuban military took over the business operations of Leal’s City Historian’s Office, absorbing them into a business empire that has grown dramatically since the declaration of detente between the U.S. and Cuba on Dec. 17, 2014.

The military’s long-standing business wing, GAESA, assumed a higher profile after Gen. Raul Castro became president in 2008, positioning the armed forces as perhaps the prime beneficiary of a post-detente boom in tourism. Gaviota, the military’s tourism arm, is in the midst of a hotel building spree that outpaces projects under control of nominally civilian agencies like the Ministry of Tourism. The military-run Mariel port west of Havana has seen double-digit growth fueled largely by demand in the tourism sector. The armed forces this year took over the bank that does business with foreign companies, assuming control of most of Cuba’s day-to-day international financial transactions, according to a bank official.

“GAESA is wisely investing in the more international — and more lucrative — segments of the Cuban economy. This gives the military technocrats a strong stake in a more outwardly oriented and internationally competitive Cuba deeply integrated into global markets,” said Richard Feinberg, author of “Open for Business: The New Cuban Economy.”

Castro has never publicly explained his reasoning for giving so much economic power to the military, but the armed forces are widely seen in Cuba as efficient, fast-moving and relatively unscathed by the low-level payoffs and pilferage that plague so much of the government. Economic disruption also is viewed as a crucial national security issue while the government slowly loosens its once-total hold on economic activity and renews ties with its former Cold War enemy 90 miles to the north.

While U.S. President Barack Obama has said detente was meant partly to help ordinary Cubans develop economic independence from a centrally planned government that employs most of the island’s workers, the Cuban government says the U.S. should expect no change in Cuba because of normalization with the U.S.

The takeover of Old Havana shows how the Cuban government is, so far, successfully steering much of the peace dividend into military coffers.

The announcement nearly two years ago that the U.S. and Cuba were restoring diplomatic relations set off a tourism boom with Old Havana at its epicenter. The cobblestone streets are packed with tourists browsing souvenir stands, visiting museums and dining in trendy private restaurants. World figures and celebrities from Madonna to Mick Jagger to Pope Francis and Obama have all visited. Hotels are booked well through next year.

The largest business arm of the historian’s office, Habaguanex, named for a pre-Columbian indigenous chief, directly runs some 20 hotels and 30 stores and more than 25 restaurants in Old Havana.

Under a special exemption by the ruling Council of State, the office has been allowed to use its revenues as it sees fit rather than returning them to the national treasury and receiving a yearly budget allocation from the central government. That 1993 measure is widely credited for giving Leal the power and flexibility to restore Old Havana to international standards while much of the rest of Havana suffers from neglect that has left buildings collapsing and streets rutted with big potholes.

A towering figure in Cuba’s intellectual and political life, Leal, who turns 74 on Sept. 11, is often chosen to deliver meditations on Cuban history and culture at major public events. He has never groomed an obvious successor. He has appeared frail and thin in some recent public appearances and close associates say he has been receiving treatment for a serious illness.

“I’m giving up everything that I think should be, under current conditions, better directed,” Leal told The Associated Press when asked about the military takeover of his financial operations. “There’s a reality. I was trained and educated to work in cultural heritage, and that’s my calling.”

Continue reading Cuba’s Tourism Thaw With the U.S. Has Been Great News for Its Military

Cuba airport security causes senators to call for pause in U.S.-Cuba flights

passengers

CBS News

Last week, regularly-scheduled commercial flights between the U.S. and Cuba took off for the first time in more than fifty years. Now, a bipartisan pair of senators has submitted legislation to ground those planes over what they say are airport security concerns.

Senators Bob Menendez, D-New Jersey, and Marco Rubio, R-Florida, have submitted legislation to that would pause the Cuba-US routes until an assessment of Cuban aviation safety could be completed.

Is Cuba ready for a boom in U.S. tourism?

“With so many serious security threats around the world, it is irresponsible to leave key aspects of our airport security in the hands of anti-American, repressive regime in Cuba,” Rubio said in a statement.

But the Transportation Security Administration says it has reviewed operations at eight of the 10 Cuban airports set to provide commercial flights to and from the U.S. and that all met international standards.

TSA Administrator Peter Neffenger, who was to meet with members of Congress Thursday, told CBS News earlier this summer that his agency “will ensure that they in fact meet all of those requirements that we put in place at last points of departure.”

Currently, the United States and the Republic of Cuba have an agreement allowing federal air marshals on board certain passenger flights between the two nations. But Menendez says it’s not enough.

“Cuba is a totalitarian dictatorship that continues to harbor American hijackers and terrorists as heroes…and remains a strategic ally of some of the world’s most dangerous terrorist organizations,” he said. “Every airport worker is employed directly by the regime, and its airports lack the technology and security capabilities we’ve grown to expect in the United States.”

Excitement over first flights from U.S. to Cuba

While Cuba, a nation of more than 11 million about 90 miles south of Key West, Florida, has been largely off limits to the United States for 55 years, it is a major tourist destination from Canada, Europe, Latin America and Russia. Dozens of international airlines serve Cuba each day.

Scheduled commercial airline service from the U.S. ended in 1961 after the communist government of Fidel Castro rose to power, and nationalized foreign assets (many of them belonging to American companies). The Cuban missile crisis brought the world to brink of nuclear war, after the Castro regime allowed Russian missiles to be set up, prompting the ongoing U.S. embargo.

But even before Jetblue flight 387 left Fort Lauderdale with 150 passengers August 31st bound for Cuba, on average 17 charter flights travel between the U.S. and the island nation daily. The charter flights have existed for years, and all of the passengers on those flights passed through Cuban airport security without legislation from Congress to stop it.

CBS News was on that first commercial flight to Santa Clara, Cuba’s fifth largest city. Our experience was far from a comprehensive review of airport security. We found it to be similar to screenings at airports around the world, but with a few quirks.

Upon arrival in Cuba, our bags were x-rayed with equipment resembling those seen in American airports. Each passenger passed through a magnetometer. Some were also “wanded” with a handheld metal detector. Security officers would not allow bottled water past the checkpoint and held a safety razor (used for shaving) for no clear reason. When asked why water couldn’t enter the terminal, the officer simply said it wasn’t allowed.

Our photojournalist was allowed to keep his water. Prior to heading for customs, the razor was returned, and we were screened again. At the Santa Clara airport, we did not see body scanners.

After checking into our return flights and clearing immigration in Havana, the security checkpoint at Jose Marti International Airport’s Terminal 3, looked a lot like security at many small airports in the U.S. There were several lanes closed — and just one screening passengers. While the line wasn’t long, the process was slow. Bags were x-rayed, passengers passed through metal detectors, and in some cases were also ‘wanded’ by a handheld scanner. This terminal appeared to have one body scanner station.

Our CBS News crew was selected for additional screening, our bags were emptied and examined. Security officers express particular concern over several old books we purchased.

The senators’ Cuban Airport Security Act follows a similar measure introduced by Congressman John Katko, R-New York, in July. Earlier in the summer members of the House Homeland Security Committee were denied visas to enter Cuba for a trip to examine airport security there.

On the day the senate bill was announced American Airlines began rolling out its service to Cuba with a flight to Cienfuegos. The Department of Transportation has authorized up to 110 daily flights from the U.S. to Cuba on 10 carriers. Flights to the island’s capitol city are expected to begin in November.

Sen. Menendez: Flights to Cuba ‘Enriching the Castro Regime at the Expense of Human Rights and Democracy

bobmenendez

CNS News

Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) said last week that commercial flights from the United States to Cuba are “propping up a regime that oppresses its people” and “enriching the Castro regime at the expense of human rights and democracy.”

“All we’re doing is enriching the Castro regime at the expense of human rights and democracy. So, if we could create, for example, business opportunities with the average Cuban person — if the average Cuban person was free to decide, you know, that I want to start up a little business, a little barber shop or restaurant or a repair shop and be able to profit from that and then because of their economic freedom see greater freedoms from the government. That might be a catalyst.” Sen. Menendez said in an interview with NJTV.

“But all that’s happening here is that in Cuba there are only two main entities that you can deal with. Both are controlled by the Castro regime. One is controlled by Castro’s son. The other one is controlled by his son-in-law. Both of them part of the Cuban military, both of the profits from the proceeds go to the Cuban military,” Menendez said.

“So, we’re actually propping up a regime that oppresses its people and has actually been since the president’s initiative more repressive. More arrests have been taking place, more beatings of human rights activists and political dissonants, because they think the message is, ‘We want to do business with you. We want to go to your beaches, and we’re willing to let human rights and democracy fall by the wayside.’”

Menedez said in order for it to be acceptable to him for the United States to have relations with Cuba, Cuba must be willing to free political prisoners, permit independent journalists, and hold free elections.

Last month, Jet Blue flight 387 from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., to Santa Clara, Cuba, was the first direct commercial flight from the United States to Cuba in a half-century.

Is it right to vacation in Cuba’s oppression?

 

passengers

Newsweek, by Elliott Abrams

The motto of the American Bar Association (ABA) is “Defending Liberty, Pursuing Justice.”

It should perhaps be revised to “Defending Liberty, Pursuing Justice, and Travel to Cuba.” Right now the ABA is sponsoring at least two trips to Cuba–but neither one has anything to do with liberty or justice.

One could dream of an ABA-sponsored trip that would try to visit political prisoners, or meet with the “Women in White” and other peaceful protesters for human rights. One could envision a confrontation between ABA members and officials of the Cuban regime’s “courts” or its “Ministry of Justice.”

But don’t hold your breath. The two tours advertised in the ABA Journal right now are “Cuba: People, Culture and Art” for next March and “Cuban Discovery” for next February.

In the latter, one does not “discover” anything about Cuba’s dictatorship and its complete disrespect for law–theoretically of some concern to the ABA. “People, Culture, and Art” has nothing to do with those Cuban people who are trying desperately to gain a measure of freedom and live under a system of law.

The brochure describes the latter trip this way:

A uniquely designed itinerary provides opportunities to experience the Cuban culture, history and people in four destinations: Havana; Cienfuegos; Trinidad; and Pinar del Río. Discover the arts during visits to art, dance and music studios, and talk with artists, dancers and musicians about their craft and their lives in Cuba.

Savor authentic flavors of Cuban cuisine at state restaurants and paladars, privately owned and operated restaurants. Learn about contemporary and historic Cuba during insightful discussions led by local experts.

Want to bet how many of the “local experts” are dissidents or human rights activists, fighting for a state of law?

The actual state of life in Cuba is described this week in The Economist. Here is an excerpt:

Queues at petrol stations. Sweltering offices. Unlit streets. Conditions in Cuba’s capital remind its residents of the “special period” in the 1990s caused by the collapse of the Soviet Union. Today, the benefactor in trouble is Venezuela. For the past 15 years Venezuela has been shipping oil to Cuba, which in turn sends thousands of doctors and other professionals to Venezuela.

The swap is lucrative for the communist-controlled island, which pays doctors a paltry few hundred dollars a month. It gets more oil than it needs, and sells the surplus. That makes Cuba perhaps the only importer that prefers high oil prices. Venezuelan support is thought to be worth 12-20 percent of Cuba’s GDP.

Recently, the arrangement has wobbled. Low prices have slashed Cuba’s profit from the resale of oil. Venezuela, whose oil-dependent economy is shrinking, is sending less of the stuff. Figures from PDVSA, Venezuela’s state oil company, suggest that it shipped 40 percent less crude oil to Cuba in the first quarter of 2016 than it did during the same period last year. Austerity, though less savage than in the 1990s, is back. Cuba’s cautious economic liberalisation may suffer.

The regime ought to be worried indeed–but help is on the way, suggests The Economist:

Tourism has surged since the United States loosened travel restrictions in 2014, which will partially offset the loss of Venezuelan aid.

So that’s where the ABA—remember, “Defending Liberty, Pursuing Justice”—comes in. This vicious, repressive regime depended on the Soviets, and then the Venezuelans, and may now depend on American tourists.

Will it be enough? One cannot know. One can only know that the American Bar Association wants to lend a hand.

This is unconscionable, and in fact no American should be lending a hand to oppression in Cuba. No Americans should be dancing and dining their way through Cuba, enjoying the beaches and the architecture while those struggling for freedom lie in prison.

That American lawyers are willing to do this, and that their main professional association wants to promote it, is a sad reflection on the profession. If the ABA said we want our members to visit if and only if they can do something to promote liberty and law and human rights in Cuba, such visits might be a genuine contribution.

Perhaps the ABA has secretly done this and actually all these trips do include spending time with dissidents and pressing officials to respect the rights of the Cuban people. I wouldn’t place a lot of money on that wager. If it has not, it is betraying the cause of justice and assisting the most repressive regime in the Western Hemisphere.

That isn’t “Defending Liberty” or “Pursuing Justice.” It’s shameful.

Elliott Abrams is senior fellow for Middle Eastern studies at the Council on Foreign Relations.

 

British tourist denied ‘last goodbye’ with dead wife in £20k Cuba medical bill row

Sheila Dumbleton with husband Ray
Sheila Dumbleton with husband Ray

Birmingham Mail

En español Marti Noticias

Widower talks for first time of ‘hell’ at losing Sheila Dumbleton during dream holiday on paradise isle

A grief-stricken pensioner said his wife was “left to die” in a Cuban hospital – because they could not pay a £20,000 medical bill.

Ray Dumbleton said he was even banned from saying a last goodbye to his beloved Sheila, his soulmate of 34 years, as her body lay alone .

The 67-year-old, from Frankley , said his ordeal was like “hell on Earth”.

He said: “If you think of a World War Two scene, then that might just start to come close.”

Sheila died in hospital in Holguin, Cuba, after falling ill on the sixth day of what had been planned as the couple’s ‘dream holiday’.

Despite taking out ‘gold cover’ travel insurance, she was unable to claim for her medical treatment and was left with a £20,000 medical bill.

Now, her distraught family have been ordered to settle her medical bill to pay and must also find an extra £7,000 to bring Sheila’s body home.

“It felt that, as soon as the hospital knew we couldn’t pay, they left her to deteriorate,” Ray said.

“All the doctors kept saying to us was ‘payment, payment’ but we didn’t have the money to give them.

“The conditions in that hospital were horrendous – something I find hard to put into words. There were dead bodies left uncovered. It was as if they didn’t care about people’s dignity. They wouldn’t even allow me to see my wife’s body and pay my last respects to her. They just kept saying it was Cuban law. I will never get that chance again. They have broken my heart, I kept saying: ‘Forget Cuban law, I want to see my wife’. But they would not allow me that last moment with her. I felt powerless over there. At one point they even threatened to put me into prison if I carried on demanding to see her. As soon as Sheila died, it felt like they couldn’t get me out of the country quickly enough. It was like nothing I had ever seen before – I was treated like a VIP, ushered straight through customs and there were no security checks. Now, I am glad to be back home but I will cannot rest until Sheila is back here with her family. The only saving grace was that I did meet some lovely people out there and without them, I probably would not have got through this ordeal.”

A spokesman for White Horse Insurance Ireland, with whom the couple had travel insurance, said: “We were very sorry to hear of Mrs Dumbleton’s circumstances. Regrettably, as Mrs Dumbleton’s medical history was not disclosed, her claim was not covered by her insurance policy.”

Relatives launched a fundraising drive when they discovered Sheila had fallen ill and would be unable to claim on her insurance.

A GoFund me campaign was launched to pay the medical bill and bring her home alive – but she died before the target could be reached.

“We have raised more than £4,000 already, so if it’s just the £7,000 then we could probably do it,” said daughter Erica McCleary.

“But we still don’t know if they will allow us to bring Mum home without paying the medical bill. I cannot begin to say how generous and kind people have been after reading about our story. We have had complete strangers offering us large amounts of money. One person even offered us their life savings just so that we can get Mum’s body home. We just want Mum home with us so we are able to grieve properly, as a family. It’s good to finally have Ray home with us after him being stuck out there for a month but we need to be allowed to grieve properly. This whole process has been a nightmare and it’s still not over. We managed to go out and see Mum when she first fell ill but we were not allowed much time with her. and we didn’t really feel like she was being cared for properly.”

Sheila became a great-grandmother while she was in Cuba but never got to meet her first great grandchild.

House approves bill with clauses that strengthen Cuba sanctions

diazbalart

The Miami Herald

The strengthened restrictions are included in the text of a budget bill approved last week after two amendments to remove restrictions on agricultural exports and travel to Cuba were withdrawn by their sponsors.

The budget bill for 2017 financial services and general government spending has been approved in the House of Representatives with several clauses that strengthen sanctions on Cuba.

The clauses limit “people to people” exchange trips, prohibit the use of funds for trafficking in confiscated property, restrict financial transactions with entities tied to the Cuban military and forbid the granting of trademark rights and intellectual property with businesses or properties confiscated by the Cuban government.

The strengthened restrictions are included in the text of the budget bill that was approved last week after two amendments to remove restrictions on agricultural exports and travel to Cuba were withdrawn by their sponsors — Representatives Rick Crawford and Mark Sanford, respectively.

Sanford withdrew his amendment after acknowledging he did not have the support of Speaker of the House Paul Ryan. Crawford also withdrew his amendment but only after receiving a commitment by the House leadership representatives from Florida to start looking for a long-term solution to remove restrictions on cash payments for the purchase of U.S. agricultural products.

“I’ve gotten commitments from leadership and my friends from Florida that there will be a proper path forward,” Crawford said during the plenary session.

Meanwhile, Republican Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart confirmed that agreement was reached with Crawford “…to come up with a solution that meets the needs of our farmers … but that does not jeopardize our national security or support the Castro regime, its military or its intelligence services.”

Diaz-Balart refuted reports that Crawford’s amendment had enough support to pass.

“Once again, the groups allied with the interests of the Cuban dictatorship who for years have been saying that there is no support for sanctions, have been unmasked in the House’s floor,” he said.

Following the announcement of the agreement, the organization Engage Cuba, which lobbies to lift the embargo, had issued a statement claiming that “the momentum for changing our Cuba policies has shifted, and even the most outspoken opponents of lifting theCuban embargo have realized that their position is no longer tenable.”

Diaz-Balart refuted that claim: “There is bipartisan support in the House to strengthen sanctions against the regime and reject the policy of appeasement of the dictatorship,” he said, adding that the passage of the budget bill “contains multiple clauses to strengthen sanctions.”