Tag Archives: tourism in Cuba

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



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.

A visit to Cuba is like a trip to prison



You say you would like to go to Philadelphia for the Fourth? Do you have permission to leave your home town? You do? Then do you have permission from Philadelphia to visit?

Oh, you also want to go to Cuba in September? In other words, you want to go to jail?

This is how I react when people rave to me about Cuba. Maybe they have visited. Maybe they have read propaganda from Cuba.

And this is how I think when I read about the Pope’s visit to Cuba. And when I see stuff about the president’s visit and schmoozes with the Castros. And when I see anything from anyone who cozies up with anything to do with communism.
Sure, Cuba has its charms. Sure, many Cubans enjoy many things about life there. And how about those cigars? Don’t forget the cool music.

Ahh, but those who sing Cuba’s praises overlook a simple sobering fact: Cuba is a type of prison. The prisoners are most of the Cuban people.

This is true of China as well, although China has certainly loosened its controls over its people over the last few decades.

If you feel like shooting off to Bermuda, you can. Book your flight today. Fly next weekend. If you happen to be Cuban you cannot shoot off to Bermuda. Try to and there may be another type of shooting — with you as the target.

The Cuban government owns you. It imprisons you. It tells you whether you can leave Cuba. And by the way, it also tells you who your leader is. You have no voice and no choice in this. One man has chosen himself to be your leader since the late 50’s. He decided a few years ago to let his brother be your leader. Nice of him.

Imagine being owned by a government. Imagine if Obama told you today he has decided to remain as your president for the next 30 years. After that he will let his wife rule you.

Imagine that if you managed to escape this country the family you left behind would suffer. They might get booted from their homes or demoted in their jobs.

This is what happens when Cubans risk their lives to sail to Florida on jury-rigged rafts and boats.

In China in the 80’s people needed permission from authorities to leave their town or city to visit Mom in another city. They needed permission from authorities in Mom’s city to enter.

Those who sing the praises of countries under communism ignore such. They tell us the hotels were modern. They tell us the people are so friendly and so happy. You should learn about their healthcare, they tell us.

You should learn about their jails, I suggest. That is where Cubans and Chinese land if they try to exercise what we regard as basic freedoms.

Ronald Reagan had the courage to cry out for the prisoners of communism. He called the Soviet Union an evil empire. “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” he demanded. I call this courageous. Because his advisers insisted he not say such things. Leaders and critics around the world attacked him.

I call this courageous because neither the Pope nor President Obama dares say the same today. Imagine how inspiring either could have been in Havana if he had sung out “Mr. Castro, open the gates of this prison!”

For years much of the world censured and isolated South Africa and Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) because whites subjugated blacks in those countries. Today the same countries approve of the slavery in Cuba. Cuba is a slave state, pure and simple.

By not speaking out about the slavery, President Obama and the Pope give tacit approval. Leaders around the world are just as guilty. It is pitiful that speaking up for the most basic freedoms requires such courage. Yes, pitiful.

Tom Morgan is a veteran columnist whose column appears weekly in the Observer-Dispatch. Contact him at tomasinmorgan@yahoo.com.

Carnival cruise to Cuba discriminates against a class of Americans


En Español Martí Noticias

Fabiola Santiago, The Miami Herald

Cuban government: Cuban-Americans need not apply for cruises

Carnival refuses bookings, says they don’t set the rules

Would they ban blacks, Jews or any other class of U.S. citizen if Cuba asked?

Imagine a cruise line that won’t take African Americans on sailings to Africa. Or won’t take bookings from American Jews to Israel. One class of U.S. citizen banned while others get access. No company in contemporary America would ever survive such blunt discriminatory business practices.

But that’s exactly what Carnival Corporation is doing in cahoots with the Cuban government and with the endorsement of the U.S. Treasury — banning Cuban Americans from its upcoming cruises to the island starting May 1.

“They’re imposing repressive Cuban laws on American citizens,” says Maria de los Angeles Torres, a respected expert on Cuba and a longtime pro-engagement and anti-embargo academic who directs Latin American and Latino studies at the University of Illinois in Chicago. “It’s like they’re bringing Cuban law here.”

Torres also happens to be a Cuban American, sent to the United States as a child during the Pedro Pan exodus. She has been traveling to Cuba since 1978 to visit family and for academic research. But despite all her liberal credentials, in the age of engagement she has been refused a place on the Carnival cruises to Cuba.

“We didn’t build bridges to have others close them,” she tells me.

The Carnival Cruise Line website beckons: “Be the first to cruise to Cuba in over 50 years. Visit our sister Fathom Travel and reserve your spot now.” There’s not one mention that Cuban Americans need not apply. I’m a believer in free travel, so I proceeded to book an October sail, my U.S. passport in hand.
The itinerary promises a seven-day cruise with stops and off-shore excursions in Havana, Cienfuegos, and Santiago de Cuba, plus all the bells and whistles of cruising. Only difference is that “cultural immersion” and designated “people-to-people” activities are mandatory, allegedly by U.S. Treasury design. I say allegedly because Cuba’s official travel office imposes or approves itineraries. They decide with whom travelers “engage.” Propaganda-peddling at its best.

Reason enough to ditch Cuba travel, but I continued booking with a Fathom agent who merrily took my personal information, put me on a waiting list for a $2,470 ocean view room and assured me I’d be generously upgraded if no one canceled. Even that far out in advance, only expensive balcony ($3,150 a passenger) and suites ($7,350 a passenger) were available. Port fees are an additional $283 per passenger. Carnival and Cuba are making a nice profit. Discrimination seems to be working for them.

After the agent said that my deposit was due in 24 hours, I asked the usual consumer questions: What happens if there’s a hurricane? I’ll get my money back or be rebooked. Finally, we get around to the passport. When I tell her it says I was born in Cuba, she asked me to hold. She returned to read me a statement from the legal department: “Current Cuban law prohibits Cuban-born individuals from entering Cuba via ship or other sea vessel, regardless of U.S. citizenship status. For that reason, at the present time, Fathom cannot accommodate Cuban-born individuals.”

Just like that, my booking was canceled.

Carnival spokesman Roger Frizzell tells me that the cruise line is “just following the laws that have been set up. We have requested a change in policy, which has not yet been granted, but our hope and intention is that we can travel with everybody. We will continue to have conversations [with Cuba] and that’s the process we would work through.”

I ask him if Carnival would have been willing to take cruise ships to South Africa during the apartheid era and not carry black people because that was the law.

He repeats that Carnival follows the laws of the countries it travels to. I guess that means the answer is yes.

Forty-seven years in this country, 36 as a U.S. citizen, a voter — and I cannot sail on an American cruise ship because Cuba says so.

Now I know how Cubans felt when they arrived in 1960s Miami and found signs like this on rentals: “No blacks. No Cubans. No dogs.” Or no Jews.

I suppose you can call it progress that at least Carnival isn’t agreeing to ban African Americans or Jews.

Something precious is lost when a foreign government dictates what kinds of U.S. citizens can sail out of the Port of Miami.

Another vacation from hell: Overbooked resorts, bad food, no toilet seat, rats in the ceiling, delayed flight


Winnipeg Free Press

Exhausted, relieved and frustrated, a group of bedraggled Manitoban tourists on a Cuban holiday touched down in Winnipeg Saturday evening, 36 hours after they’d seen a bed, a toothbrush or a decent meal.

Passengers stopped outside the international arrivals gate at Richardson International Airport to describe a charter that couldn’t get a plane to them or even explain to them what had gone wrong.

Some said they’d surfed the Internet waiting in a small Cuban airport overnight before an airline agent arrived at dawn to tell them what they’d already found out on their own: Sunwing Flight 261 from Winnipeg to Holguin had taken off, only to turn back over North Dakota, causing the plane to be 13 hours late picking up passengers in Cuba for the return trip.

The charter was part of an all-inclusive weeklong resort holiday near Holguin, a city in the eastern part of Cuba most known for being the place Christopher Columbus landed in 1492.

The passengers had booked with the charter carrier, Sunwing, which merged with Signature Vacations in 2011.

In total, the flight carried 146 passengers and crew. Most were on holiday from Brandon and small towns in western Manitoba.

They included a wedding party of 17, elderly couples, parents with young families as well as one passenger suffering through a bout of food poisoning picked up on the island and a man who had to do without medication that was checked into his luggage.

“It was a rough trip with these guys,” said Fred Copeland, the man who needed his medication. “With three kids,” he added.

The Copelands live in Cowan, a small town 440 kilometres northwest of Winnipeg, and planned to stay with family in Winnipeg overnight, deciding against the long drive home.

“It’s just not right. It shouldn’t have happened to us, and it shouldn’t happen to anyone else,” fumed a Killarney nurse the moment she cleared customs.

Carolyn Tallack said a series of delays in the return Sunwing flight from Holguin, plus a bizarre set of glitches in communications, left passengers frustrated. Saturday morning, she was on her phone to her son in Brandon, who called the Free Press.

“We’ve been awake 36 hours. What are they doing to people? Everybody understands that things happen.

“The thing is, they didn’t keep us informed. People want to know they’re treated with some dignity,” Tallack said.

Things started to go wrong as soon as the air carrier touched down in Cuba a week ago, at the beginning of the weeklong holiday. Resorts scheduled to take the tourists were overbooked, and Tallack said she spent two nights in another resort where the food was poor, her room had no toilet seat and no safe for belongings. Worse, she was convinced there were rodents scuttling in the ceiling above her.

The final straw was the flight home, she said.
Continue reading Another vacation from hell: Overbooked resorts, bad food, no toilet seat, rats in the ceiling, delayed flight

Canadians held ‘hostage’ in Cuban hotel room after damage to room

Global News

Two Canadian tourists say they were virtually held hostage in their Cayo Coco, Cuba hotel room because their credit cards couldn’t be accessed to pay $400 in room damages.

“I could not sleep at night knowing any other tourist would go through this,” said Katharine Foran, 26, of Vancouver, who just returned to Canada.

Foran and her partner, Adam Babuik, 30, also of Vancouver, say they ran into trouble before checkout at the Hotel Playa Coco.

Admitting they damaged a wall and broke a light bulb inside their room, they were ordered to pay the hotel for damages. They say they agreed.

Foran says the hotel couldn’t process payment using their credit card; not because of insufficient funds, but because of the card issuer.

“Because we were a part of a credit union in Vancouver, they didn’t accept that in Cuba,” said Foran, who told Global News the couple’s other card, a TD debit Visa, couldn’t be processed either.

The couple say they were prohibited from making phone calls or contacting the Canadian Embassy in Cuba or to get legal assistance.

“I was floored,” said Foran.

When family members in Vancouver couldn’t reach the couple in Cuba, one filed a missing person’s report with Vancouver police, which confirmed information was circulated to agencies including the RCMP and the Canadian Border Services Agency.

Incredibly, the couple’s release may have been ordered by Cuba’s highest political official.

At one point while in detention, they say a police officer took a phone call from someone who made loud demands.

“We asked afterward and they said it was (Raul) Castro,” president of the Council of State of Cuba, she said.

Soon after, they were escorted to the airport, put on a Sunwing aircraft and flown back to Toronto, without paying any of the charges demanded.

Initially, the couple said Air Canada wanted to charge additional fees for their return to Vancouver. However, after a request by Global News, Foran and Babuik were allowed to fly home to Vancouver at no extra cost.

Canada’s Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development and Cuba’s tourist office in Toronto did not return phone calls about the couple’s allegations.

The couple say they were made to feel like criminals.

“It was not a debt for a damaged wall and a lamp; it was like we had killed someone in Cuba and we were going to go to jail for it,” said Foran.

You Will Not Like Cuba – Media Hype Sells Product That Does Not Exist


By Luis H. Ball ipublisher of the PanAm Post

During the early days after the fall of the Berlin Wall, several national media outlets in the United States published articles referring to East Germany as “the most advanced of the Eastern European economies,” vaunting its bright future after communism as the country, we were told, possessed “advanced industries” in optics and a highly productive workforce. Soon afterwards it became clear that the authors of these articles had foolishly believed the lies spread by Communist East Germany’s vaunted propaganda machine.

The reality was starkly different. East German factories were only good to be used as scrap metal for the modern smelters of West German industrial giants such as Krupp or Thyssen. There was zero advanced technology in East Germany; the country’s infrastructure was comparable to that of a poor Third-World nation; the pollution of the cities was terrifying; and most of the countryside had turned into a giant hazardous waste dump.

Twenty five years later, East Germany remains poorer than the western side of the country, which never lived under communism. It will probably take another 25 years before the damage caused by decades of rule by a thuggish, murderous, totalitarian communist clique can be fully reversed.

One wonders how supposedly professional newsmen who were assigned by their publications to cover that part of the world could have been so blind and so wrong. Without doubt, some praised the supposed East German paradise with careful and well-thought-out lines, designed to hide their true political leanings. Others were evidently fooled by ignoring a fact well known to anybody who has lived in a police state: nobody dares to tell the truth.

The well-intentioned and honest reporters actually believed what they were being told by “the man on the street,” who was always full of praise for his country, even if he knew better. Years of living with the East German secret police, the infamous Stasi, had inculcated into everyone the fear of telling the truth, particularly to a foreigner. Vaclav Havel, the late hero and former president of the Czech Republic put it best: “The first victim of communism is the truth.”
Continue reading You Will Not Like Cuba – Media Hype Sells Product That Does Not Exist

Cuba’s Lies with My Own Eyes – Communism’s Failures Up Close and Personal


There is only so much one can know by reading and talking about a nation, without actually going there. Such was my dilemma before making a trip to Cuba in September, aware of the risks to people who work in the media and challenge the regime.
Now, with so many observations to process, I must overcome that same hurdle in communicating to others what I experienced. To gather the initial reaction in depth, my good friend and PanAm Post contributor Yaël Ossowski interviewed me for our podcast.

There is only so much one can know by reading and talking about a nation, without actually going there. Such was my dilemma before making a trip to Cuba in September, aware of the risks to people who work in the media and challenge the regime.

Now, with so many observations to process, I must overcome that same hurdle in communicating to others what I experienced. To gather the initial reaction in depth, my good friend and PanAm Post contributor Yaël Ossowski interviewed me for our podcast.

Even the buildings in Havana’s tourist area, right across from the capital building, show the filth and deterioration of more than half a century of communist rule in Cuba.

Taxi drivers do their best to hustle tourists for a few bucks, which can often see them earning more than Cuba’s medical physicians, who at best make US$50 per month.

With little opportunity, many Cubans resign themselves to their impoverished fate and just sit on the street throughout the day.

The apartments adjacent and connected to the one where I was staying had a pool of cigarette butts between the stairway, which appeared ready to fall in. (PanAm Post)

Above all, and I don’t feel good saying this, I want to convey that the Castros and their criminal allies have made Cuba a nation of lies. Their deceit permeates far and wide, from the socialist propaganda that litters the nation to the misleading tourism advertising that lures foreigners in. While those in charge scapegoat their home-grown problems on the United States and the embargo, the people suffer and the capital, Havana, struggles on as a dirty, smelly, and pitiful ruin of a city.

One can barely walk a block without a tribute to the Castro brothers, Che Guevara, their revolution, and even Hugo Chávez, although what they are to be thanked for remains a mystery. And with internet access almost nonexistent, locals are left with little other than regime-approved media. For newspapers, I saw the Granma, the “official voice” of the Communist Party of Cuba, but that was about it, and I felt sorry for the visibly poor man trying to persuade me that a copy was worth US$1 (a day’s salary there), 25 times what he actually sells it for.

Why anyone would rave about Cuba as a tourist destination and why Marxists abroad parrot praise for the tyrants, perhaps I will never understand. One would think the thousands fleeing on makeshift boats (often perishing), along with Cuba’s top athletes defecting at foreign sporting events, would send the message that it’s no paradise. Apparently the lackeys are too mesmerized by the smokescreen of “free” medical care and education to notice the strongman rule and flagrant disregard for human rights.

Continue reading: PanAmPosts

The Politics of Prevention: Cholera in Cuba

Prof. Sherri L. Porcelain

from the University of Miami’s Institute for Cuban and Cuban American Studies:

Even before the scheduled opening of the US Embassy on July 20, 2015, there were advertisements, blog posts, tweets, and news feeds welcoming U.S. residents to Cuba for cultural, religious or educational opportunities. Cuba remains a popular destination for Canadian and Western European tourists with its rich cultural arts, gracious hosts and Caribbean beaches. However, a growing interest in U.S. approved trips must consider Cuba’s lack of safe potable water, sanitation and sewage issues along with housing challenges. This is important because while it is unreported, cholera transmission exists within Cuba.
Cuba’s lack of transparency in health outbreak reporting is in question again. Laboratory confirmed cases continue to be shared with the international community about tourists returning to Canada, Latin America, and European countries after taking home more than sun and fun from a Cuban vacation. Cuba consistently asserts that the cholera outbreak of 2012 was quickly controlled within the country.
Where is the United States government on this issue today?
While a U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) cholera watch in Cuba has recently been removed from their website, (1) there is still evidence that cholera is transmitted there. CDC travel notices consists of three levels:
A “watch” level 1 informs travelers to use usual precautions, an “alert” level 2 calls for enhanced precautions and a “warning” level 3 advises travelers to avoid nonessential travel to an area where the risk is high. These travel notices are important because the CDC notification system is widely used by travelers as well as clinicians for up-to-date international travel information.
Since 2013 there have been cases of confirmed cholera after visits to Cuba. (2) In January 2015 the Canadian International Health Regulation reported a case of a returning traveler, (3) as well as Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) on their Epidemiologic Update Report (4) documented this as the only case of cholera in Cuba for 2015. This assumes only travelers and no locals have been infected. It is more likely that the Cuban government does not share this information with the international community, and is only compelled to cooperate after scientific proof is disseminated.
In June 2015 the United Kingdom reported a traveler who participated in an all-inclusive resort stay in Varadero and spent two days in Havana before getting sick and returned home with cholera. According to the International Society for Infectious Disease, through their Program for Monitoring Emerging Diseases (ProMed- mail) posting on July 3, 2015, the patient indicated other family members were well. However, “several other people staying in his hotel (not necessarily in the same tour group) had reported severe gastroenteritis symptoms with a similar period of onset,” suggesting this may not be the only case. Pro-Med seeks to share this information and advise others of the confirmed cholera in Cuba and for health professionals to consider such a diagnosis with travelers returning with diarrhea. (5)
The question is not whether cholera is a risk to locals and visitors. Rather, the issue is why has the CDC removed the notification from its website when outside country evidence continues to show cholera exists within Cuba.
Are we left to speculate that the promotion of diplomatic relations- in an attempt to not question Cuba’s position on reporting disease outbreaks as required by World Health Organization International Health Regulations- is more important than the prevention and promotion of health security? Let’s not play politics with what we know is a best practice in prevention. Give people access to reliable information so they are well informed of their potential risks. Only then can good decisions be made to prevent cholera-or for that matter dengue, chikungunya or possibly zika virus (new mosquito born virus to reach the Caribbean) when traveling to Cuba.

1) Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “Travel Notices- Cholera in Cuba,” http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/notices/watch/cholera-cuba, accessed July 14, 2015.

2) M Mascarello, M L Deianam C Maurel, C Lucarelli , I Luzzi R Luzzati, “Cholera with Severe Renal Failure in An Italian Tourist Returning from Cuba,” Eurosurveillance, July 2013. Volume 18, Issue 35, August 29, 2013. http://www.eurosurveillance.org/ViewArticle.aspx?ArticleId=20572.

3) Public Health Agency for Canada, Travel Health Notice: Cholera in Cuba, Dominican Republic, Haiti and Mexico, updated March 20, 2015 http://www.phac-aspc.gc.ca/tmp-pmv/notices-avis/notices-avis-eng.php?id=111.

4) PAHO Epidemiologic Update. “Cholera in The Americas,” June 24, 2015 http://www.paho.org/hq/index.php?option=com_docman&task=doc_view&Itemid=270&gid=30752&lang=en

5) ProMed- Mail. “Cholera, Diarrhea and dysentery update (24): Americas,” Archive Number: 20150703.3480336July 3, 2015 http://www.promedmail.org.

*Sherri L. Porcelain teaches global health in world affairs at the University of Miami where she is also a Senior Research Associate at the Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies.

Time: Inside the New Cuba (But with the Same Old Dictators)


From Breitbart News

Time has published a new special edition that will be at supermarket checkout counters and bookstores through Sep. 11: Inside the New Cuba: Discovering the Charm of a Once-Forbidden Island: The People, The Culture, The Paradise.
The glossy magazine mentions some of the continuing political oppression inside the communist dictatorship, but focuses on the island’s picturesque attractions, touts its many cultural attractions, and celebrates the thaw in U.S-Cuban relations formally announced by U.S. President Barack Obama in late 2014.
At times, the Time special strives to downplay Cuba’s grim political reality. Cuban exiles, writes Karl Vick, “came to dominate the U.S. view of Cuba for the next half-century, defining Castro’s regime as totalitarian and the Cuban people as victims.” He adds: “There was no shortage of facts supporting that view,” but says that “in retrospect, the Cold War only framed what was at heart a neighborhood grudge match.” He notes that Internet access unavailable, and “[e]very block has its Committee for the Defense of the Revolution to inform on the neighbors.”
The highlights likeliest to attract American interest spill across the pages: a visit to Ernest Hemingway’s “haunts,” a tour of Havana’s night clubs, a guide to cigars, and a section on Cuban baseball. (Defections by Cuban athletes continued this month: one of the non-defectors said: “I hope they’re happy. They have left something beautiful behind, which is socialism and our country’s dignity. Let them do what they can in other countries. We will continue doing what we can for the revolution.”) A section on art features brightly-colored propaganda mosaics.
There is, of course, the chance that Cuba really will change–if the Obama administration decides to apply pressure, which it has largely declined to do, or–more likely–once the Castro brothers go the way of all flesh.
Time‘s writers seem preoccupied with a different kind of change–namely, the prospect of thousands of rich American tourists arriving and demanding creature comforts that will ruin the island’s charm. That might be a price that Cuba’s people might well be willing to pay, if it also brings prosperity, openness and freedom.