Breaking the status quo

Funny things happen to Americans after visiting Cuba through people-to-people programs: (1) contrary to what Marco Rubio and his fellow comecandelas would have you believe, they get to meet everyday Cubans (not just government goons) and engage in real cultural exchanges with them; (2) they turn into “anti-embargo” advocates, writing detailed op-eds about the realities of life in Cuba and how our embargo and travel ban do absolutely nothing to help the Cuban people; and (3) they come to the conclusion that Cuba hardliners in DC are a bevy of boneheads. The latest victim of this strange subtropical malady is Kristen Ann Muniz, who published her account of a recent trip to Cuba in HuffPo today:

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The most crucial aspect to acknowledge, however, is that the trade embargo is hurting more humans than it is helping. The tips that Cubans working in the tourism industry would accumulate from American travelers could feed thousands of families. Those who don’t work in tourism would still benefit substantially from donations that Americans could bring with them upon visiting. And finally, because of U.S. patents, it is extremely difficult and time-consuming for Cuba to receive fifty percent of prescription drugs, including treatments for children with cancer. Yes, I just pulled the “Children with cancer” card, so now you have to agree to the embargo on Cuba being lifted. We can do better, America. Visit Cuba… just try not to be an asshole when you do.

You heard her, America. Visit Cuba, just try not to be an asshole when you do.

In the meantime, I’ll keep waiting for a single American to come back from Cuba and write an op-ed on how well our policy is working.

A welcome highlight of the controversy over BeyJay’s trip to Cuba has been watching media conservatives rail against the US embargo on Cuba like never before.

Geraldo Rivera of FOX News wrote an op-ed calling out the absurdity the travel ban:

Cuba is not Iran. It is 90 miles away, and its 11 million are related to our million and more. I’m sure most were as pleased to see Beyoncé and Jay-Z go to Cuba as they were to see the Cuban people. Tourism is not terrorism. It is the beginning of freedom.

Rivera later schooled the gang over at Fox & Friends on how to make friends and influence the Cuban people:

“We’ve made friends with communist China. We do business with them,” [Rivera] added. “Vietnam – we lost 50,000 soldiers and we have normal relations.”

“What if you had a relative rotting in prison there because they spoke up?” asked Brian Kilmeade.

“But the way to loosen them up is to expose them to freedom,” Rivera shot back.

“With Hollywood stars?” asked Gretchen Carlson incredulously.

“Jay-Z and Beyoncé showed the good life to millions of Cubans who will envy America as a result,” asserted Rivera. “It was a harmless trip and the reaction was way over the top.”

Judge Jeanine Pirro, also of FOX News, dedicated the entire opening of her show to questioning the travel ban and embargo, ultimately calling it a “charade”:

Fifty years later this embargo has accomplished nothing. Wouldn’t American influence and American dollars put us in a more positive light as opposed to the image that Castro has created of Americans? In the end it isn’t so much about that celebrity couple who chose to vacation on that pristine island as it is about trying to make new friends in a world where we could certainly use a few more.

Finally, conservative kingmaker George Will declared on ABC’s This Week that the embargo no longer makes sense (watch at 39:00 mark):

The Cuban embargo may have made a lot of sense during the Cold War. The Cold War is over, and it is hard to think of a policy more firmly refuted by events than the policy of the embargo that was supposed to weaken one of the, it turns out, most durable dictators in the world.

All further proof that calling for the lifting of travel and trade restrictions against Cuba is a bi-partisan issue, and that the Cuba Lobby, which likes to slander anti-embargo advocates as liberal useful idiots and Castro apologists, only represents itself, not conservative values nor the Cuban-American community.

It must be hard being a Babaloser these days. Their narrow little world is crumbling all around them. First, Obama wins re-election, then we find out 49% of Cuban-Americans voted for him, then Joe Garcia defeats their golden boy David Rivera, then Yoani Sanchez speaks out repeatedly in favor if lifting the Cuban travel ban and embargo (at the Freedom Tower no less!), George Will slams the embargo on ABC’s This Week, and now hometown-boy-made-good, Pitbull pens an “Open Letter” backing Hova.

Humberto “I-have-voices-in-my-head-and-they-all-blog” Fontova doesn’t want to see it though. He compiles a long list of MSM headlines recognizing that the song supports Jay-Z, and then argues that just as when Bruce Springsteen released “Born in the USA”, people now “hear what they want to hear”.

Actually, it’s pretty clear Mr. Worldwide is paying tribute to the exile community and supporting Jay-Z (two concepts that taken together must make Fontova’s brain melt). The only people who get dissed in the song are the Castro regime and their bizarro twins across the Straits, our Cuban-American politicians who threatened fines and possible jail time for the Brooklyn rapper and his bootylicious Mrs.

But hey, read Pit’s lyrics and be the judge:

Don’t agree with the change Castro talk
But it’s hard to understand unless they educate you
Politicians loves to hate you
But then they runaway when it’s time to debate you
Question of the night, would they have mess with Mr. Carter if he was white?

Now if we only knew which politicians have called for federal investigations on Jay-Z as of late?

Humbi, pipo, mas claro ni el agua. Strap on your tin foil hat because the sky’s a fallin’.


Miriam Leyva, Cuban independent journalist and a founder of the Ladies in White group, on why it’s so important to have more contact between Cubans and visitors, not less:

The interaction between American visitors and their Cuban counterparts, as well as the conversations with children and youth, enlarge their horizons and nourish indelible experiences. The proactive policies put in place by the Obama administration have positively impacted people’s self-esteem and the opening of the Cuban society.

There are many ways to promote democracy, ways that develop in the minds and consciences of the citizens via their freedom to choose and act, precisely what’s repressed by authoritarian means. They are seeded by direct personal contact and assistance. We Cubans have endured too many prohibitions during the past 54 years.

(my translation)

Amidst all the hoopla over Beyonce and Jay-Z trip to Cuba, we thought it would be a good time to remind our readers of what acclaimed Cuban blogger said about tourism during her recent trip to Miami (hear her say it at the 9:00 mark):

Yoani Sanchez on tourism to Cuba


Yoani Sanchez sobre el turismo a Cuba

Just when you think you have written the last post about Bey and Jay visit to Cuba, along comes CABA (Cuban American Bar Association), with an open letter slash cathartic screed directed at them. And yes, why they would think Bey and Jay will give them one tenth of a second of attention escapes me as well. The letter itself is an unremarkable, cut-and-paste job from the last one. But it’s as good an opportunity as any to debunk a few rote points.

Contradiction #1: they say Jay and Bey should have gone “beyond the confines of what the Cuban government planned for your visit” to “find your own truths.” That may fly on Babalu, but here we know better. It’s not the Cuban government, it’s the US government who confines people-to-people travel to a tight schedule, cleared in advance with OFAC, with lots of restrictions. Guess what, if Beyonce decides to stray from her itinerary in order to deliver an armload of computer equipment to dissidents, she would be breaking US law.

Stupidity #2: the centuries old “the Cuban government will use your trip for propaganda”. You know what else it uses for propaganda? The embargo, the travel ban, trying to keep Elian in Miami, the judicial process against the spies, the Vigilia Mambisa camera-hungry protests, Ileana “La Loba Feroz” Ros Lehtinen’s every move, your letter, and a long etcetera. Anything and everything, no matter how right or wrong. If CABA is so concerned with Castroite propaganda, they should lobby for the end of the embargo, because that’s propaganda excuse #1, BY FAR, AND it doesn’t work to boot.

Unnecessary lecture #3: about the violations of human rights in Cuba, yes we all know and deplore that. Much good your little self-serving letter is doing to change that situation. Use the damn trip to highlight those violations as many have done. Better yet, lobby for more Americans –especially those enamored of the cigar-and-beaches worker’s paradise– to go and see the reality with their own eyes. It makes a difference. Guess what’s a fantastic environment for a controlling and repressive regime: a closed and isolated country with no visitors.

Navel-gazing #4: “the island we fled”, “the friends and family living in the US”, “our suffering”, etc… It’s not all about you CABAers and please stop cheapening the suffering of exiles. The isolation policies you promote don’t hurt Raul Castro or you in your Coral Gables offices. They hurt the Cuban people allá.

Ignorant statement #5: The money only go to the Cuban government coffers. Really? I know of three private restaurants, one private nightclub and one private concert they attended. God knows how many other places they visited, how many tips they left, how many crafts and souvenirs they bought. BTW, the only reason they had to stay at the Saratoga and not at a case particular it’s because, you guessed, the US regulations don’t allow it!

Come on CABAers. Think before you fire off another by-the-numbers letter. It’s just disappointing when smart people act like sapingos and refuse to contribute in smart ways to find solutions.

Friday reads

April 12th, 2013 | Posted by Alex in Cuba policy | Cuba travel - (0 Comments)

The one perspective on Bey & Jay’s Cuba visit we haven’t heard enough about: everyday Cubans in Havana, courtesy of Michael J. Bustamante.

And the always excellent Tracey Eaton continues tracking down where the USAID money for Cuba goes.

And one more, which illustrates the paradox of licensed travel:

They must also explain how the activities result in “meaningful interaction.” All trips must have a chaperone from the licensed organization, who must also write a report detailing all people-to-people activities during the trip. Attendance and participation at all events — and a grueling schedule — is mandatory for travelers. All this is meant to create as light a “tourism” footprint as possible, but in addition to the difficulties of legislating meaningful interaction, this elaborate system operates in a reality where, particularly in Cuba, culture is never far from politics.

If there’s something made clear and obvious after the much ballyhooed trip of Jay and Bey to Cuba, is the absurdity of licensed travel. It’s time to get rid of it, and open travel for any American citizen who wants to visit.

Opponents say that the travelers have contact with government officials or carefully selected Cubans, and don’t meet with dissidents. Even if we indulge in the fantasy that the Cuban secret police has the resources to carefully control every one of the 90,000 Americans who went last year to the island, the name of the program is “people-to-people”, not “people-to-dissident”. The value is in the interaction between regular people. Teacher to teacher, architect to architect, artist to artist, chef to chef and any other zillion combinations. This idea that every American visiting the island has to bring in a copy of the Declaration of Human Rights and a laptop for a dissident, as nice as that would be, it’s simply not what the program is about.

Besides, I don’t want Beyonce or Jay Z practicing amateur spycraft or diplomacy or any kind of Rodman-in-Korea circus. I want John Kerry to be the one who calls for more reforms from Havana. That’s his job and it can be done. But by keeping the status quo we’re taking diplomacy away from diplomats and pretending it should fall to a couple of singers.

Second, it’s precisely the requirements for a license and a carefully vetted itinerary that guarantees the interaction with government institutions. I don’t agree with everything she says here, but writer Achy Obejas is crystal clear on this. Even if the interaction is not political per se, there’s simply no way to visit a school or arrange security without going through a government institution.

So let’s stop the charade. Let’s have free and open academic, cultural, religious and family travel. No licenses, no red tape, let the specialized agencies do their work without obstructions. And let’s have tourism. What are we afraid of? Yes, some people will go to an all-inclusive resort just like they do in Cancún. But many others will walk around Havana and other cities, talk to regular Cubans, make arrangements for meals at private restaurants, take private taxis and sleep in casas particulares, all the while showing that the “enemy” is not their enemy.

Update: The Latin American Working Group has a petition supporting general licenses for all Cuba travel. It’s a step in the right direction. Sign it here.

From Michael Skolnik

I hope the United States government investigates your trip and threatens to fine you, under the “Helms-Burton Act of 1996 (Trading With The Enemy),” which prohibits any sort of financial exchange with the Cuban government. Since the Cuban government holds a controlling interest in every business in Cuba, the food you ate, the hotel you stayed in, the cigars you bought (Montecristo No.4 are my favorites)…all of it is proof that you have traded with the enemy. I hope that Senator Marco Rubio and Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the puppets of the few angry Cuban-Americans left in Miami, hold hearings on your trip in front of the United States Congress and the people of this country. For the sake of the Cuban people and the majority of Americans who are not allowed to visit this enchanted island, I hope that they think they can make an example of you. Because for far too long good people have been fighting to lift the unjust and irrational embargo against the people of Cuba, and nobody has listened.

No sooner did Jay-Z fly in from “Havana to Atlanta” – inspired and a bit ticked – than he wrote these verses for his “Open Letter” to certain South Florida politicians who believe in promoting freedom by denying it to Americans:

Sorry y’all I don’t agree with y’all parents
Politicians never did shit for me
Except lie to me, distort history
They wanna give me jail time and a fine
Fine, let me commit a real crime
And our favorite:
I’m in Cuba, I love Cubans
This communist talk is so confusing
When it’s from China the very mike that I be using
“Idiot wind” the Bob Dylan of rap music
You’re an idiot baby, you should become a student/
The world’s under new management
New role model, f*ck that Zoolander shit

We totally see it.