Category Archives: Tourism in Cuba

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.”

Lawmakers seek to ground Cuba flights pending security review

passengers

The Hill

Commercial flights to Cuba could begin as soon as this fall, but some lawmakers are seeking to ground service until Congress knows what type of screening equipment is installed at the island’s airports or whether suspected terrorists could use Cuba as a gateway to enter the U.S.

A group of House members — who were denied visas to visit Cuba and assess airport security risks themselves — is backing legislation that would halt air service to Cuba until the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) conducts a thorough investigation of the security protocols at all of Cuba’s 10 international airports.

The measure also would require an agreement that grants TSA agents full access to inspect Cuban airports with direct flights to the U.S. and permits federal air marshals on flights between the U.S. and Cuba.

Bill sponsor John Katko (R-N.Y.) hopes the TSA report will shed light on basic questions like whether Cuban airports screen bags for bombs or hire drug dealers as employees. He said it’s particularly alarming that Congress does not know answers to its questions, considering recent attacks on jetliners have been linked to airline employees.

“You’ve got a potential nightmare on your hands,” Katko, chairman of the House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Transportation Security, said at a roundtable with a small group of reporters on Tuesday. “It may turn out there’s nothing to worry about, but we don’t know. And that’s the concern we have.”

Katko says the legislation has the support of leadership and some Democrats, which increases its chances for passage as either a suspender or as part of a larger spending package this fall.

But the bill could face an uphill battle in the Senate, where a committee overwhelmingly approved lifting the travel ban with Cuba, as well as in the Obama administration, which has been pushing to normalize relations with its former Cold War rival.

In February, the Transportation and State departments signed an agreement to reestablish scheduled air service between the U.S. and Cuba, although traveling to the island for tourism is still prohibited.

The Department of Transportation recently approved eight airlines to start flying to Havana and six airlines to travel to other cities on the island as early as this fall.

“This is coming at breakneck speed,” Katko said.

Under Katko’s bill, air service to Cuba could not take place until the TSA details the country’s airport screening equipment, canine program, security personnel training, airport perimeter security, access controls and employee vetting process.

The TSA would also be required to assess whether a suspected terrorist could use Cuba as a gateway to enter the United States in its report, which would have to be independently audited by the Government Accountability Office.

Katko said Congress has been stonewalled by both the Department of Homeland Security and the Cuban government in seeking answers to its questions.

He worries that opening commercial air travel with Cuba will create new opportunities for terrorists. Katko said fake Cuban passports have been “showing up all over the Middle East.”

“If you think about an American airliner, with an American flag on the tail, you think ISIS doesn’t see that as a great target, a great PR win, if they can get a bomb on a plane?” said Rep. Richard Hudson (R-N.C.), a lead sponsor of the legislation, referring to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. “And if there is not screening of baggage, and you’ve got people making $5 dollars a day handling the baggage, it doesn’t take a whole lot of imagination to see a scenario where somebody could put a bomb on the plane.”

Katko pointed out Cuba could not benefit from a House-passed Federal Aviation Administration bill allowing the TSA to donate excess screening equipment to foreign airports because of the existing trade embargo.

Supporters of Cuban air travel argue that charter services have been offering flights between the U.S. and Cuba for years without terrorism incidents, and airports already must comply with a set of international standards.

But lawmakers maintain that more than 100 daily commercial flights are a different dynamic than charter flights, while international standards may not be high enough.

“International standards, that doesn’t mean anything to me,” Katko said. “That’s a baseline, it’s not a big hurdle.”

American hotel deal with Cuba just helps the oppressors

starwood

The Miami Herald, by Fabiola Santiago

Starwood opens first U.S.-operated hotel in in Havana in more than five decades

It’s not an opportunity for Cubans to earn a living independent of government

Neither is sending Shaquille O’Neal as “Sports Envoy to Cuba” to join celebrity circus

Mr. President, what’s wrong with this picture?

Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide opens the first U.S.-operated hotel in Cuba in more than five decades. But it’s not a joint enterprise between an American firm and a Cuban entrepreneur, the kind that is supposed to benefit from a newly open and friendly U.S.-Cuba policy. The American hospitality giant is in business with the Cuban military, which owns the hotel.

Four Points Sheraton Havana brought to you, American traveler, by the people who repress Cubans.

If the intention of rapprochement is to create opportunities for ordinary Cubans to earn a living independently of their one-party, my-way-or-the-highway system of governance, this venture fails to pass the test.

We’re only shifting from the Castro brothers and family personally enriching themselves through totalitarian rule to the repressive military now doing exactly the same thing. Members of the military and their heirs already own the best paladares in Cuba, like the one where President Obama and his family dined. Now in this deal, they’re also the sole business partners of a top American hospitality travel company.

What I see is Americans trying to make a buck in cahoots with a repressive regime. Same old USA ambition, questionable ethics and double talk. As for engagement, this falls in the same realm as cruise-ship sailings and the imaginary theory that if enough Americans disembark at selected and controlled points and follow a highly structured agenda somehow Cuba is going to magically change for the better.

The State Department explains the Treasury Department approval of the Starwood deal as a need. Americans traveling to Cuba are complaining about the poor quality of government-run hotels. To keep them coming, allegedly to engage with ordinary Cubans, you’ve got to give them at least that Sheraton quality room and service they expect. Wait… aren’t they rushing in droves to visit the Communist Disneyland next door before it’s “spoiled” by Starbucks and McDonald’s?

The policy should be to let American travelers soak in all the Cuban reality, not shelter them from it.

Forgive me for being so blunt, but I — and scores of other Cuban-Americans who have supported the president’s policy of engagement with the goal of improving the lives of the Cuban people — could not care less how comfortable Americans feel when they travel to Cuba. If American need for comfort continues to oppress the underpaid Cuban worker, if American need for comfort keeps the repressive Cuban government as the Cubans’ one and only employer, if your dollars only extend the dictatorship, please sleep on the beach.

Or better yet, stay in a Cuban home.

“It’s getting harder and harder for me to support the initiatives in Cuba,” Cuban-American poet Richard Blanco says about the Starwood deal. “Are they blind? How will [the goal of bringing prosperity to the Cuban people] be realized if basically they are doing what others foreign investors have done, namely, strike a deal with the government that leaves the ordinary Cubans in the same situation? How is this any better, simply because it’s the U.S.?”

This from the poet full of hope who praised the new day of thawed relations at the ceremonial opening of the U.S. Embassy in Havana.

Yes, we’ve heard enough travel stories from Americans who learned nothing and only added Castroist propaganda to their views. We’ve dealt with enough indignities like Carnival’s willingness to impose Cuba’s repressive laws and discriminate against a class of Americans to be the first to get that cruising contract. We’ve learned about the Cuban government wholesaling visas, then turning away travelers at the airport they don’t find to their liking, no refunds.

And no, naming Shaquille O’Neal “Sports Envoy to Cuba” doesn’t help ordinary Cubans make a living independent of their government and their so-called centrally planned economy.

More celebrity circus, nada by way of change.

The Cuban government continues to violate the same international human rights standards that it has cynically pledged to uphold in the presence of world leaders and forums like the United Nations.

The Ladies in White continue to be violently and routinely assaulted by the Castro regime’s goons, sometimes in plain view of visitors. They don’t even hide the abuse anymore. Last Sunday, the repressive forces arrested dozens of these peaceful women to keep them from attending Mass, and broke into their home headquarters and tried to steal their belongings.

Mr. President, what’s wrong with this picture?

Plenty. So far, the only entities on the winning side of U.S. engagement are the Cuban government, its allies and the select Americans who’ve been chosen to make a buck on Cubans’ backs just as Spaniards and Italians did when they flocked to the island’s “opening” to foreign investment in the 1990s. The people in charge are the same who turned the Habana Hilton in 1959 into their triumphant rebel headquarters and nationalized the tourism industry, making it theirs to profit from.

At what point does the outrage over the lack of basic human rights in Cuba reach a level high enough for the Obama administration to step back and re-assess a booming business relationship that has moved forward with unusual haste and without legitimate reform and opportunity for the Cuban people.

Mr. President, your administration’s generosity and openness toward the unchanging Cuban regime seems to be bottomless.

Time to slow down and take stock before handing over more and more dollars directly into the coffers of those in charge of repression.

House lawmakers who wanted to assess aviation security were blocked from visiting Cuba

passengers

The Hill

Several House lawmakers claim they were blocked by the Cuban government from traveling to the country, where they planned to assess aviation security and passenger screening at airports.

The delegation, led by House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Michael McCaul (R-Texas), planned to visit the island this weekend to evaluate the potential national security risks associated with resuming commercial air service to Cuba.

The Obama administration earlier this year announced an agreement to re-establish scheduled air service between the U.S. and Cuba as part of an effort to normalize relations with the former Cold War enemy. Six commercial U.S. airlines will begin flying to Cuba this fall, the Department of Transportation announced this month.

Travel to Cuba is permitted under limited circumstances, including for official U.S. government business.

But members of the Homeland Security Committee said their visas were not approved for their planned trip.
Adding fuel to the fire is an announcement on Friday that National Basketball Association hall-of-famer Shaquille O’Neal will serve as a U.S. Department of State Sports Envoy to Cuba from June 25 to 28.

“At a time when the Obama Administration is rolling out the red carpet for Havana, the Cuban government refuses to be open and transparent with the peoples’ Representatives,” McCaul said in a statement on Friday. “Sadly, it appears to be easier for Cubans to come to the United States than for Members of the House Homeland Security Committee to get to Cuba.”

Other lawmakers who were planning to visit Cuba include Reps. John Katko (R-N.Y.), Martha McSally (R-Ariz.), Richard Hudson (R-N.C.) and Henry Cuellar (D-Texas).

“The Administration is eager to have as many people as possible visit Cuba – except for those who are attempting to examine Cuban security infrastructure,” said Katko, chairman of the transportation security subcommittee. “We still don’t know if Cuba has the adequate body scanners and explosive detection systems in place, whether it has the technology to screen for fraudulent passports or ID, whether or how aviation workers are screened, and if Federal Air Marshals will be allowed to fly missions to Cuba on commercial flights.”

The Homeland Security Committee held a hearing last month with Department of Homeland Security officials on those concerns, but GOP committee leaders said they still had unanswered questions.

Another hearing on Cuba air travel was scheduled for earlier this week, but it was postponed, and lawmakers received a closed-door briefing from officials.

Flights To Cuba Now Departing (Bring Your Own Toilet Paper)

byotp

ValueWalk

Cuba Is Still BYOTP

Marketplace Radio takes a look at the challenge of filming movies and television shows in Cuba, focusing specifically on Showtime’s “House of Lies” starring Don Cheadle. The episode is titled “No es facil” – “It’s not easy.” The title appears to be a description of doing business in Cuba, and also of filming a show about doing business in Cuba. As Marketplace’s Adrienne Hill and show creator Matthew Carnahan explain:

Camera equipment was shipped from Germany because it couldn’t be sent directly from the U.S. Even basic supplies – “there’s not hammers and toilet paper, and things that people need.”

Journalists have stopped reporting on the privations of socialism in Cuba. But Hugo Chavez was a great admirer of Fidel Castro and the society he built, and he wanted to give Venezuelans the same thing. And of course he did:

Venezuela’s product shortages have become so severe that some hotels in that country are asking guests to bring their own toilet paper and soap, a local tourism industry spokesman said on Wednesday….

Rest well, Comandantes Castro and Chavez, while your people dream of toilet paper. And hammers. And soap.

Lawmakers accuse Homeland Security of doublespeak on Cuba flight risks

tsa

Politico

Piling security concerns atop their political complaints, House Republicans say initiating commercial air service from Cuba is a disaster waiting to happen, and accused the Obama administration of fast-walking flights to shore up the president’s legacy.

Obama administration officials publicly insist TSA has thoroughly scrutinized the 10 Cuban airports where flights may soon begin, ensuring that they meet the highest security rules laid out by the International Civil Aviation Organization, a U.N. body.

But Rep. John Katko (R-N.Y.) says administration officials have told a different story behind closed doors, including warnings about outdated screening equipment, “mangy street dogs” on canine teams and insufficient vetting practices for aviation workers.

“The administration’s lack of transparency on this issue is unacceptable and leads me to believe that the administration is either hiding something, or worse: simply negligent of the security concerns associated with this policy,” Katko said during a House Homeland Security hearing Tuesday. “The picture officials of TSA paint of the security situation at Cuba’s airports is indeed bleak.”

The congressman, who serves as head of the House Homeland Security subcommittee that handles transportation issues, pressed TSA witness Larry Mizell to reiterate worries he expressed privately. But Mizell declined to publicly elaborate, saying the information was classified as sensitive and that his opinion of Cuba’s aviation security procedures has improved over time.

“The concerns I had that I shared with you was over a five-year period. Certainly I had concerns at the beginning which I don’t have now,” Mizell said. “Right now, the government of Cuba airports that have been assessed and inspected by the inspectors meet ICAO standards.”

Mizell would not say, though, whether he personally believes security is sufficient at Cuban airports.

“The concerns I have are very minor compared to what we were looking at five years ago,” he said.

Katko said that it was only under threat of subpoena that the Homeland Security Department would allow Mizell to appear before the committee.

“Even then,” the congressman said in a statement after the hearing, “the administration failed to allow the witness to openly testify about security concerns that he had previously stated to the committee.”

Katko claims bomb-sniffing dogs at Cuban airports are “poorly trained at best,” that there is no equipment for detecting trace explosives and that only one of the airports in question uses full body scanners.

To boot, “these scanners are Chinese-made,” he said. “We have no idea whether they work at all, or how they work, or how well they work.”

House Homeland Security Chairman Mike McCaul (R-Texas) said the administration’s plans to open commercial air service to and from Cuba are being “unnecessarily rushed.” The Department of Transportation is evaluating which airlines will receive service to which airports, a process that is expected to be completed in time to inaugurate service in fall.

“There are serious security concerns here that seem to be taking a backseat to a legacy-building effort,” McCaul said. “So far I remain entirely unconvinced the administration has done its due diligence. While the Obama administration may be willing to put the security of Americans at risk to appease a dictator … the United States Congress will not.”

Once commercial service begins, TSA will continue to inspect the security of flights out of Cuba and has the power to suspend service entirely or force emergency security measures, Seth Stodder, a DHS assistant secretary, told the panel.

Besides working to finalize an agreement with Cuba for the use of Federal Air Marshals, Stodder said DHS runs passenger information through the FBI’s Terrorist Screening Database; foreign nationals are only allowed to fly to the United States if they have valid visas or permission through the Visa Waiver Program.

“All of the security and enforcement requirements in place for international flights to the United States will be applied with equal force to Cuba flights,” Stodder said. “Indeed, these measures are already in place with regard to the charter flights that have for many years offered service between our two countries.”

Paul Fujimura, assistant administrator for the Office of Global Strategies within DHS, said TSA’s team of about 150 international inspectors uses a standardized assessment to size up aviation security at all airports with direct flights to the United States.

“They follow a very clearly articulated job aid … it’s a very regulated process that we operate around the world,” he said. “I would be very comfortable flying from Cuba myself. They meet international standards.

U.S. warns Cuban Americans about risks in traveling to Cuba

passengers

The Miami Herald

A U.S. travel warning triggers concerns among Cuban Americans

Cuban-American travelers are warned that their U.S. passports could be seized

The warning says even U.S.-born children of Cuban Americans are at risk

If you’re a Cuban American wanting to visit Cuba, be careful! The Cuban government could seize your U.S. passport, or even draft you or your children into the armed forces.

And that’s not a warning from opponents of the Obama administration’s ongoing thaw in relations with Havana. It comes straight from the U.S. Embassy in Havana.

A statement on the embassy’s official web page warns that the Cuban government “does not recognize the U.S. nationality of U.S. citizens who are Cuban-born or are the children of Cuban parents.”

It adds that those people “will be treated solely as Cuban citizens” and that the Cuban government also can demand that they enter the island using their Cuban passports instead of their U.S. documents.

Those visitors also “may be subject to a range of restrictions and obligations, including military service,” and may have their passports confiscated, the Embassy added. Cuba has a mandatory military service system, in which everyone is supposed to serve 14 to 24 months when they turn 16.

“There have been cases of Cuban-American dual nationals being forced by the Cuban government to surrender their U.S. passports,” added the undated statement, posted on the Embassy’s web page.

As if the risk of being stuck in Cuba were not enough, the statement also warned about “Cuba’s denial of consular services to dual American-Cuban nationals who have been arrested.”

William Cocks, a spokeperson for the Bureau of Consular Affairs at the U.S. Department of State, told el Nuevo Herald that the travel warning is not new and that the information has been posted on a State Department website page since October 2015. Embassies often use the same information, and travel warnings are issued on a regular basis, he said.

The U.S. Embassy in Havana did not immediately respond to questions about the travel warning.

Cocks also said that the information about the children of Cuban Americans being considered Cubans when they visit the island comes from “experience” and “how we understand that the government of Cuba deals with U.S. citizens of Cuban origin.”

The concerns triggered by the statement, which has been making the rounds on social media platforms in recent days, come at a time when U.S. travel to the island, especially by Cuban Americans, is growing quickly because of the Obama administration’s new policy of “engagement,” which promotes trips to the island as an essential part of improving bilateral relations.

About 390,000 U.S. citizens of Cuban background visited the island in 2015. The Cuban Ministry of Tourism reported that 116,000 Cuban Americans and 94,000 U.S. citizens visited in just the first four months of this year alone.

The Cuban government’s decision to treat some Cuban Americans as Cubans is paradoxical because the island’s constitution, in Article 32, says that “dual citizenship will not be allowed. In consequence, when a foreign citizenship is acquired, the Cuban one will be lost.” That means Cubans who have become U.S. citizens legally lost their Cuban citizenship and should be able to use their U.S. passports when they return to the island — a long-standing demand by Cuban Americans now highlighted by the controversy sparked by the Carnival cruise ship that sailed from Miami to Cuba.

Even more surprising is the Embassy’s warning that the U.S.-born children of Cuban parents may also be treated as Cuban citizens if they visit the island. Cuba currently allows them to visit using their U.S. passports and Cuban entry visas, but may risk arbitrary decisions by the Cuban government, the diplomatic mission indicated.

Grisel Ybarra, a Cuban-American lawyer who specializes in immigration cases, said the Cuban constitution is similar to some European constitutions because it awards citizenship based on parental as well as geographical factors. Foreigners also can become naturalized Cuban citizens.

Article 29 says Cuban citizens are those “born abroad of a Cuban father or mother, as long as the legal requirements are met,” as well as “those born outside the national territory, of Cuban fathers or mothers who have lost their Cuban citizenship, as long as they request it (the Cuban citizenship) in the manner required by law.”

Although most Cuban Americans do not undertake the requirements for their children to retain or obtain Cuban citizenship, Ybarra added, that does not rule out the possibility that authorities on the island could consider the children to be Cuban citizens.

Ybarra said she had a client whose wife decided to stay to live in Cuba during a family visit to the island. Although the Cuban-born couple had both become U.S. citizens, and one of their three children had been born in the United States, Cuban authorities regarded the children as Cuban citizens, meaning that both parents had to approve any trips abroad for the kids. The wife refused to approve, and there was little the lawyer could do.

The U.S. Embassy statement suggests reading its section on Children’s Issues “for information on how dual-nationality may affect welfare inquiries and custody disputes.” The section, however, is not yet available online.

On the other hand, Cuban Americans are not always considered to be Cuban citizens. When it comes to medical treatment, the embassy statement added, Cuban Americans cannot go to the free public hospitals used by Cubans living on the island. They are required to seek treatment in clinics reserved for foreigners, where they pay high prices.

The statement also warns that dual U.S. and Cuban citizens “should be especially wary of any attempt by Cuban authorities to compel them to sign ‘repatriation’ documents.

“In several instances, the Government of Cuba has seized the U.S. passport of dual nationals signing declarations of repatriation and has denied these individuals permission to return to the United States,” the embassy said.

The Cuban Embassy in Washington did not respond to requests for comment for this story.