Monthly Archives: July 2017

A Canadian family experiences Cuba’s “great healthcare”

CBC

Cole Antinello was on vacation with his family last week when he got sick

A Canadian mother and her sick son are desperate to get back home after an illness forced Cole Antinello, 7, off an airplane tarmac in Cuba, leaving them stuck in hospital and searching for answers.

Nicole Antinello of Caledonia, Ont. flew to Cuba for a holiday on July 14 with her seven-year-old son, alongside her 76-year-old mother and her 16-year-old daughter.

Towards the end of the trip, the family started experiencing flu-like symptoms, she said. It hit Cole the hardest — and officials flagged the Caledonia Centennial School student as too sick to fly when sitting in his seat on the tarmac in Cuba, about to take off to come home.

“He had a fever and chills, and thought he was going to throw up,” Antinello told CBC News from Cuba. The family was pulled off the plane, and Cole was rushed to a pediatric hospital in Holguin.

There, doctors diagnosed Cole with appendicitis and wheeled him into surgery to have his appendix out — but his mother says she isn’t sure that was the right diagnosis.

The doctors pushed on his abdomen to gauge his pain level, and though her son said “Ow,” he “just wasn’t in a whole bunch of pain,” Antinello said. The doctors also performed a blood test, which she says revealed a an irregularity.

“The doctors started speaking in Spanish, and then they turned around and said he needed his appendix out.”

Mother alleges hospital conditions were ‘like a warzone’

According to the Mayo Clinic, a physical exam to assess pain and a blood test can both be used to help diagnose appendicitis. Urine tests can also be ordered, alongside imaging tests like an ultrasound or CT scan — but those options weren’t available in the hospital, Antinello told CBC News.

She called the conditions in the hospital “disgusting,” with water running down the walls, constantly running toilets, and construction happening right next to her son’s room. “There was dust everywhere,” she said. “It looked like a warzone.”

After the surgery, doctors told the family that Cole’s appendix hadn’t burst. He has since been discharged from hospital, and is now staying at a nearby hotel. But, she says, he has since fallen ill again.

Antinello says the family purchased travel insurance for medical emergencies through Manulife.

“Now, we’re waiting for the insurance to guarantee payment for the hospital bills before we’re allowed to leave the country,” she said. Antinello’s daughter and mother are set to fly out tonight, while she and her son are hoping to fly out on Friday night.

A Manulife spokesperson said she couldn’t comment on the situation.

“The health and well-being of our customers is our priority and we take great care to ensure their needs are met,” said Shabeen Hanifa, media relations manager. “Manulife takes the responsibility of protecting the privacy of our customers very seriously and are not able to discuss specific details of any case.”

‘I haven’t slept in days’

Global Affairs Canada told CBC News that they are aware of the situation, and that their thoughts are with Cole and his family.

“Canadian consular officials in Guardalavaca and Havana are in contact with local authorities and are providing consular assistance to the family as required,” said spokesperson Brianne Maxwell in an email. “To protect the privacy of the individual concerned, further details on this case cannot be released.”

A GoFundMe page has been launched by some of Antinello’s friends to help out with costs. She says that she’s not trying to cover medical bills (as insurance should take care of those), but she is trying to pay for flights (which aren’t covered under her plan, she says), as well as hotels, food, and her rapidly expanding phone bill.

Antinello, who is currently off work on disability leave, says she has had to up the limit on one of her credit cards to keep going.

As of Wednesday morning, the fundraising page had raised $2,030 of an $8,000 goal — though Antinello says she wasn’t aware that’s how much her friends were asking for. “We don’t need that much,” she said.

More than anything, she and her family just want to get home, she says.

“I haven’t slept in days. It’s so scary, and my head is spinning, and I just want to get back home to Canada.”

New White House communications director has traveled to Cuba to scout investment opportunities

The Miami Herald

Anthony Scaramucci, the new White House communications director, has traveled to Cuba several times to explore the possibility of doing business on the island.

Scaramucci, whose appointment on Friday led to the resignation of White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer, is the founder of the global investment firm SkyBridge Capital. He also is behind the annual SkyBridge Alternatives (SALT) Conference that brings together business and government leaders. In 2016, the conference — for the first time —included a panel on Cuba in which the Cuban-American businessman Hugo Cancio was one of the speakers.

At the offices of OnCuba in Havana, a digital media outlet owned by Cancio, Scaramucci was quoted in an interview published in May 2016 about his idea of ​​creating an “investment fund” for Cuba, adding that, “we are eager to exchange (ideas)… about the best ways in which we can contribute to the development of the country, the services and the quality of life of citizens.”

Scaramucci told OnCuba that he first traveled to the island in 2012.

“When I saw that the U.S. policy of rapprochement was heading to reconciliation and the ease of the embargo, I started to get in touch with people to get an idea of whether it was really possible to implement my projects here,” he said.

On his Facebook page, Scaramucci shared the interview on a May 4, 2016 post and wrote that during his visit to Cuba he “saw a very beautiful country. I am very hopeful for the future of Cuba and excited to welcome the Cubans to the SALT Conference!”

Cancio confirmed that Scaramucci is “a good friend.

“He is a very successful businessman and I hope his new vision will be good for the White House and President Donald Trump,” Cancio said.

Trump recently took steps to tighten U.S. policy toward Cuba and ban business with companies linked to the Cuban military, which controls most of the Cuban economy. It also imposed some limitations on individual travel by Americans to the island and ordered more audits for travelers. However, he did not entirely undo all of the easing of restrictions implemented by former President Obama.

Before taking a harder approach on Cuba, several media outlets, including Newsweek, Bloomberg and the Miami Herald reported the Trump Organization’s interest in doing business with Cuba, even though the U.S. embargo prohibits it.

“I think the situation is oversimplified to one country being capitalist and the Cuban system originating from communism, and as a consequence, there’s an embargo,” Scaramucci said in the interview. “However I think that many Americans would like to get in touch with Cuba and its culture.”

“I have always said that to speak and give an opinion about Cuba, people should travel to the island and be in contact with all kinds of Cubans,” said Cancio, who has served as an adviser for several U.S. companies interested in business on the island. “Anthony has had that opportunity and I hope he can be a new, more calm and coherent voice about Cuba’s past and present.”

“Today I sleep more calmly that there is a person close to Trump who can share that vision stemming from the experience on his visits to Cuba,” he added.

Mary Anastasia O’Grady: Crackdown on Cuba key to peace in Venezuela

The Wall Street Journal

The civilized world wants to end the carnage in Venezuela, but Cuba is the author of the barbarism. Restoring Venezuelan peace will require taking a hard line with Havana.
Step one is a full-throated international denunciation of the Castro regime. Any attempt to avoid that with an “engagement” strategy, like the one former US president Barack Obama introduced, will fail. The result will be more Venezuelas rippling through the hemisphere.
The Venezuelan opposition held its own nationwide referendum on Sunday to document support for regularly scheduled elections that have been cancelled and widespread disapproval of strongman Nicolas Maduro’s plan to rewrite the constitution.
The regime was not worried. It said it was using the day as a trial run to prepare for the July 30 elections to choose the assembly that will draft the new constitution.
The referendum was an act of national bravery. Yet like the rest of the opposition’s strategy — which aims at dislodging the dictatorship with peaceful acts of civil disobedience — it’s not likely to work. That’s because Cubans, not Venezuelans, control the levers of power.
Havana doesn’t care about Venezuelan poverty or famine or whether the regime is unpopular. It has spent a half-century sowing its ideological “revolution” in South America. It needs Venezuela as a corridor to run Colombian cocaine to the US and to Africa to supply Europe. It also relies on cut-rate Venezuelan petroleum.
To keep its hold on Venezuela, Cuba has embedded a Soviet-style security apparatus. In a July 13 column, titled “Cubazuela” for the Foundation for Human Rights in Cuba website, Roberto Alvarez Quinones reported that in Venezuela today there are almost 50 high-ranking Cuban military officers, 4500 Cuban soldiers in nine battalions, and “34,000 doctors and health professionals with orders to defend the tyranny with arms”. Cuba’s Interior Ministry provides Maduro’s personal security. “Thousands of other Cubans hold key positions of the state, government, military and repressive Venezuelan forces, in particular intelligence and counter-intelligence services.”
Every Venezuelan armed-forces commander has at least one Cuban minder, if not more, a source close to the military told me. Soldiers complain that if they so much as mention regime shortcomings over a beer at a bar, their superiors know about it the next day. On July 6, Reuters reported that since the beginning of April “nearly 30 members of the military have been detained for deserting or abandoning their post and almost 40 for rebellion, treason, or insubordination”.
The idea of using civilian thugs to beat up Venezuelan protesters comes from Havana, as Cuban-born author Carlos Alberto Montaner explained in a recent El Nuevo Herald column, “Venezuela at the Edge of the Abyss.” Castro used them in the 1950s, when he was opposing Batista, to intimidate his allies who disagreed with his strategy. Today in Cuba they remain standard fare to carry out “acts of repudiation” against dissidents.
The July 8 decision to move political prisoner Leopoldo Lopez from the Ramo Verde military prison to house arrest was classic Castro. Far from being a sign of regime weakness, it demonstrates Havana’s mastery of misdirection to defuse criticism.
Cuba’s poisonous influence in Latin America could be weakened if the international community spoke with one voice. The regime needs foreign apologists like former Spanish prime minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero and the leftist wing of the Vatican. It also needs the continued support of American backers of the Obama engagement policy, who want the US to turn a blind eye to human-rights abuses.
Yet there are limits to what can be brushed off. When opposition congressmen were attacked by Cuban-style mobs on July 5, and their bloodied faces showed up on the front pages of international newspapers, the Zapateros of the world began to squirm. That was Havana’s cue to improve the lighting for Maduro.
First Maduro claimed he knew nothing about it, though his Vice-President was on the floor of the legislature while it was happening. That was not believable.
Three days later came the sudden decision to move Lopez from military prison to house arrest. Maduro said it was a “humanitarian” gesture.
Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino, an acolyte of Fidel, said it was a “product of dialogue and ­tolerance.”
Thus the images of the savagery in the National Assembly receded while photos of Lopez, kissing a Venezuelan flag outside his home, popped up everywhere. Mission accomplished and Lopez remains detained.
For too long the world has overlooked the atrocities of the Cuban police state. In 1989 Fidel was even a special guest at the inauguration of Venezuelan president Carlos Andres Perez. Today the “special guests” are brutalizing Venezuela as the world wonders what went wrong.

Maduro is trying to cool off the protests: Leopoldo Lopez released from prison to house arrest

CNN

Venezuelan opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez, whose imprisonment has been a rallying cry for anti-regime demonstrators, has been ordered released to house arrest because of health concerns, the nation’s Supreme Court said Saturday morning.

Lopez has been detained since early 2014 over accusations of inciting anti-government protests.
“By the power of Supreme Court Judge Maikel Moreno, the criminal court of the Supreme Court Justice grants house arrest to Leopoldo Lopez due to health problems,” the court tweeted.
One of Lopez’s relatives confirmed that he has been granted house arrest.
The South American country is in the throes of a political and humanitarian crisis that has spurred mass protests against the government, especially over the past few months.

Lack of demand: Southwest cutting service to two Cuban cities

Rapid City Journal

DALLAS | Southwest Airlines, pulling back on its service to Cuba, plans to end flights to two cities on the island in September after determining the routes aren’t sustainable, the company said last week.

Dallas-based Southwest will operate its last flights to Varadero and Santa Clara on Sept. 4. It will continue its service from Fort Lauderdale and Tampa, Fla., to the island nation’s capital, Havana.

Southwest’s decision is the latest sign that U.S. airlines, which got permission to fly to Cuba last year, have been disappointed with their return on investment. Southwest joins American Airlines and JetBlue in cutting back service to Cuba, while Frontier Airlines and Silver Airways ended their Cuba flights altogether.

“Our decision to discontinue the other Cuba flights comes after an in-depth analysis of our performance over several months which confirmed that there is not a clear path to sustainability serving these markets, particularly with the continuing prohibition in U.S. law on tourism to Cuba for American citizens,” Steve Goldberg, Southwest’s senior vice president of ground operations, said in a statement.

Commercial flights between the U.S. and Cuba took off for the first time in 50 years in 2016 as part of a broader push by the Obama administration to liberalize relations between the two countries.

Airlines launched dozens of daily flights to Havana and smaller cities across the island, hoping to stake a claim in a new market with the potential to grow into a major tourist draw.

About 285,000 U.S. citizens traveled to Cuba in 2016, triple the amount that did so in 2014, according to the Boston Consulting Group.

The Obama-era policy made it easier for U.S. citizens to travel to Cuba but did not totally eliminate restrictions and challenges that made visiting the island unlike traveling to any other Caribbean market.

General tourism to the island is prohibited, with U.S. travelers having to visit under one of 12 official purposes, including educational, research or humanitarian.

Traveling to the island is likely to get even more difficult for U.S. citizens after President Donald Trump announced changes this month that will require most visitors to be part of organized tour groups.

For now, much of the traffic between the U.S. and Cuba will likely be Cuban Americans visiting friends and family on the island, a market Southwest will continue to serve with its flights from Fort Lauderdale to Havana.

The company is currently requesting a third daily flight between those two cities and is awaiting a ruling from the U.S. Department of Transportation.

These Cuban coaches think they are still in Cuba

They should be in jail, instead of a baseball field.

Video

New York Post

If you’re going down, go down swinging. The Cuban National Team made use of that axiom Thursday night in an exhibition, 6-5 loss to the Canadian-American League’s Rockland Boulders.

After the umpires overturned a controversial call in the ninth inning, calling Cuba’s runner out at second base due to interference, the Cuban coaching staff lost their minds. One coach arguing with the head umpire turned into a sea of older men in red-and-white uniforms surrounding the umpires on the infield dirt, getting in their faces, bumping them with their chests and kicking dirt on them.

The entire coaching staff was promptly ejected from the game, although that didn’t stop them from stalking the umpires onto the outfield grass.

The umpires eventually made it to safety, exiting the field and forcing the game to end early — with one out in the ninth inning and the tying run on first base.

The game was part of an international showcase which featured the Yeoncheon Miracle, an independent South Korean team, and the Cuban team on a three-week tour through the Can-Am League.

The tour was unaffected by the recent restrictions President Donald Trump placed on predecessor Barack Obama’s Cuban travel policy.