USAID/Cuba, a Schizophrenic Policy May 7, 2013 By Tracey Eaton (alongthemalecon.blogspot.com)
HAVANA TIMES — If Washington’s policies toward Havana were a person, the poor soul would likely be confused, maybe even schizophrenic.
U.S. officials try to starve Cuba into submission… Continue reading
Cuba dissident blogger Yoani Sanchez has been confronted by pro-Castro fanatics at the International Journalism Festival… Continue reading
April 18, 2013
Haroldo Dilla Alfonso*
HAVANA TIMES — Every time the Latin American Studies Association (LASA)
holds one of its congresses, we see at least one conflict involving
Cubans and travel visas.
This year, on the eve of the 31st Congress, to be held in Washington,
the U.S. State Department has denied three young Cuban intellectuals –
Isbel Díaz, Dimitri Prieto and Elaine Díaz – the needed travel visas. I
am told that the decision regarding Elaine has been reconsidered,
though, at the time I had completed this post, I had not yet confirmed
I believe a gathering of this nature would be enriched by the
participation of these three people, which would also signal the
rejuvenation of Cuba's intellectual milieu. The three have stood out for
their critical stances towards specific aspects of contemporary Cuban
reality. Isbel Díaz, for instance, is well known for his environmental
activism within Observatorio Crítico. I respect all three and sincerely
hope they can participate in a LASA congress this year.
The first observation that comes to mind is that, if the U.S. State
Department continues to be so inconsistent when granting visas to Cubans
who apply to participate in a LASA congress, the latter will have no
choice but to return to the days when it convened in Latin America, as
it did back when obstinate George W was in office, and to stop holding
congresses on U.S. soil.
I don't think it has any other option, from the ethical point of view.
For the time being, it is duty-bound to spare no effort in persuading
the State Department to reconsider its decision and allow these valuable
intellectuals to attend the gathering, a privilege which their
professional qualifications have earned them.
Having said this, I want to comment on a number of issues, related to
the reactions that two of the above individuals have expressed in
articles published in a number of blogs and digital periodicals.
First of all, I feel that politicizing this matter, seeing it as the
demonization of individuals who live in what Washington, through its
"colonialist gaze", perceives as a "communist hell", is misguided.
Claiming that left-wingers are punished and opposition activists
rewarded is both a confused and confusing statement. The truth is that
the granting or denial of these types of visas has nothing to do with
the ideology of the applicant (with whether the applicant, for instance,
is a left-wing, environmental or LGTB activist). These ideologies, and
many more, co-exist on American soil and cause no scandal.
The selection process doesn't even appear to have clear professional
criteria. As is evident, valuable representatives of Cuba's intellectual
sector, respected high-level professionals from across the continent,
and emerging young figures, deserving of their recognition, all attend
Those of us who have attended previous LASA congresses also know that
Cuba's "delegation" always includes as many "cops" as you find outside
Havana's Coppelia ice cream parlor on a Saturday night. Some are on the
payroll of Cuban State Security; others are envoys of the country's
propaganda machine. Some are active agents, while others are retirees
offering collateral services. Some are "good cops" and some are "bad
cops". But all, and this is the crucial point, perform work that has
very little to do with free academic debate.
You see them at every congress, living off the LASA association's
budget, intimidating the real scholars and transforming Cuba's Task
Force into a confusing and shady extension of the Cuban Communist
Party's Ideological Department. These parasites are a greater obstacle
to the participation of Cuban scholars in LASA fora than the U.S. State
These individuals, despite their ideologies, function and affiliations,
despite their lack of even a basic academic curriculum, are allowed into
U.S. territory. I recall that last year, the Cuban government's golden
girl, Mariela Castro, was granted a visa, while Oscar Zanetti, Cuba's
most learned living historian, a man whose erudition far outshines any
political inclination he may have, was denied one.
The selection process is that much unjust and counter-productive. But it
is not necessarily arbitrary.
Except in highly exceptional cases vetoed by U.S. immigration policy,
the reasons travel visas are denied simply have to do with bureaucratic
eligibility factors and quotas.
They have to do with questions as mundane as whether the person is
considered a potential illegal immigrant or the number of times they
have visited the United States in the previous 12 months, but not with
In the end, the person who denied these people their visas hasn't the
slightest idea as to whether they are left-wing activists or right-wing
extremists. For he has denied a visa to a number with a category next to
it, which is what all of us ultimately are in these types of
bureaucratic procedures which involve thousands of people.
If those denied a visa did not understand the idea behind the interview
process or the need to support the claim that they would return to Cuba
with convincing arguments, the blame can be laid only on them, or on
Cuba's lack of Internet access.
The United States has a web-page with very detailed information about
these matters, with so much information, in fact, that it is sometimes
overwhelming. And, we have to admit, it is a country with one of the
most transparent of immigration systems. I am not saying it is a just
system, only that there is a wealth of information available to the
public which suffices for making informed decisions and evaluating their
I doubt the U.S. government promised LASA that it would grant all visas
requested, as one of the people denied one angrily affirms. No
government would do such a thing, not before knowing who the applicants
are. And, again, though I feel it was a mistake to have denied these
young intellectuals a travel visa, every State has the right to decide
who enters or leaves its territory, and sets down classifying parameters
I am a supporter of open borders, but, until we reach this lofty goal, a
goal that, in all certainty, I will not live to see, we must understand
and respect a country's sovereign right to manage its territory as it
I think it is an exaggeration to state that this regrettable incident
sheds light on the extent to which bureaucrats can "(…) become
dehumanized in their unwavering compliance with orders from above."
In truth, this has nothing to do with dehumanizing bureaucracies
(blaming all of our woes on the poor bureaucrats has become customary
these days). I also don't think the matter is so serious that one should
seek to expose it as the work of the devil incarnate.
I would go as far as saying that these young Cubans, critically-minded
and intelligent as they are, should have had more than enough reasons to
detect more dehumanizing elements in Cuba's migratory situation.
Suffice it to remind readers that the Cuban government bars many
citizens who have emigrated from freely returning to their country of
origin, and from enjoying the rights they ought to have on the land of
their birth. There is, in fact, an entire sector, composed of
highly-renowned Cuban intellectual émigrés, who are denied entry into
Cuba, or who can visit the country under very specific circumstances.
This is the reason they cannot organize any kind of exchange with their
fellow Cubans, or publish anything on Cuban journals, or offer lectures
at any university, or attend any academic gathering, gatherings as
academic, at least, as those organized by LASA.
I think it is worth remembering that, even though historical differences
between Cuba and the United States always add a unique dimension to this
whole situation, the crux of the matter is that to travel around the
world with a Cuban passport, today, means situating oneself at the
lowest rung of the migratory food chain. Not because we are left-wing,
but because we are poor.
As an inveterate optimist, I trust that this situation will be resolved
and the three excommunicated applicants will be able to arrive in
Washington in time for the congress, to their benefit, and to the
benefit of LASA and the entire international intellectual community.
(*) A Havana Times translation of the original published by
http://www.havanatimes.org/?p=91499 Continue reading
Jay-Z Blasted by '21 Jump Street' Director Over Cuba Trip By Greg Gilman | Reuters – Fri, Apr 12, 2013
LOS ANGELES (TheWrap.com) – Jay-Z responded to critics of his Cuba trip with a song called "Open Letter" and now… Continue reading
Dispelling Four Misconceptions About Travel to Cuba
Posted: 04/13/2013 2:09 pm
You've probably heard the chatter that music superstars Beyoncé and
Jay-Z recently celebrated their five-year wedding anniversary in Cuba.
Their trip reignited questions about whether Americans can travel to
Cuba legally. From what I've seen in the media, there are still many
misconceptions about Americans traveling to Cuba. So, here are the facts.
It's only legal for Americans to travel to Cuba on licensed trips that
involve cultural or educational exchanges with Cubans. These trips are
made possible through People-to-People licenses, granted by The U.S.
Treasury Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC). Only a handful of tour
operators (including my company, Friendly Planet Travel), have been
granted a coveted People-to-People license.
After some initial false reports, we found out this week that Jay-Z and
Beyoncé traveled with a licensed People-to-People tour operator (not my
company) and participated in various activities required by the license.
For example, the New York Times reported that Beyoncé watched an
informal performance by a local dance company, and both stars visited
the children's theater group La Colmenita.
The misconceptions I read about Beyoncé and Jay-Z's trip got me thinking
about some of the other fallacies I've heard about Cuba since we began
offering tours to the country back in 2011. I wanted to clear up a few
of them here:
Misconception #1: It's illegal for Americans to travel to Cuba.
The Truth: Americans can legally visit Cuba by traveling with tour
providers who have People-to-People licenses, which allow them to
interact and exchange ideas with the Cuban people. A typical itinerary
is filled with activities that offer a wide range of interactions
between Cubans and American tourists. From something as simple as
sharing dinner with a Cuban family to attending cultural events,
visiting schools, meeting with local artists and sharing an organic
lunch at a local community farm, the day is spent meeting, talking and
exchanging views. For people who love learning about other cultures,
meeting new people and learning how others live, it's a trip made in heaven.
Misconception #2: It's expensive to visit Cuba.
Fact: Travel is always expensive, and Cuba is more expensive than other
frequently visited destinations in the Caribbean because of geopolitical
issues and bureaucracy. On the other hand, the true value of visiting
Cuba, especially at this time, is literally priceless. The opportunity
for Americans to engage with the Cuban people hasn't been available
since 1960. Since that time, Cubans have stayed true to their heritage,
and because of the long embargo, they have had very little resources to
change much of their physical surroundings. Consequently, a trip to Cuba
will feel like going back in time, with your Father's 1955 Chevy Bel Air
plowing the streets as a taxi. More significantly, the experience of
visiting Cuba will open you up to a whole new world only 230 miles from
Miami International Airport, where people have learned to do more with
less -- literally -- and where they have proven that there is rich,
rewarding, enchanting life without much material wealth. A legal visit
to Cuba is an investment, but after sending over 2,000 people to Cuba on
Friendly Planet tours, not one traveler has said it wasn't worth their
time or interest. In fact, they've said it's worth every penny.
Misconception #3: Cuba has a limited, but growing tourism infrastructure.
Fact: Cuba's tourism business disappeared when American travelers were
embargoed in 1960. In fact, if it weren't for the Canadians and
Europeans, who love to holiday on Cuba's magnificent, powdery sand
beaches, the industry would be totally dead. Compared to other Caribbean
destinations, Cuba's tourism infrastructure is lacking. There aren't
enough hotels; sometimes the hot water doesn't get hot; sometimes the
water doesn't come out of the spigot at all; occasionally the elevator
(if there is one) breaks down, and so on. That doesn't mean there aren't
deluxe facilities on the island, but where they exist, they are
expensive, even more so for the lack of such facilities. It is important
to note though that Cuba's tourism infrastructure is growing. And while
a few gorgeous beach resorts, which can be found scattered about the
island, are generally not visited by American tourists (sun bathing
doesn't qualify as a people to people activity), there are hotels with
decent amenities to be found. Cuba's tourism infrastructure may be
limited, but it does exist, and you will hardly even have to rough it
the way you might in, say, Madagascar! In any event, travelers to Cuba
are generally more interested in immersing themselves in Cuban culture
and seeing how Cuban people live than they are surrounding themselves in
luxury. And the joy of the experience more than compensates for the
minor inconveniences that may occur.
Misconception #4: Cubans don't like Americans.
Fact: Cubans and Americans have always held an affinity for one another.
Cubans who live in America today have played a pivotal role in
American's perception of the island. Likewise, Cubans are students of
the American people, separated by only a small body of water. Every
Cuban child learns English, starting as early as third grade, and Cubans
on the islands are avid consumers of American culture through
television, music and even the internet, although access in Cuba is
quite a challenge. Our experiences with the people of Cuba have proved
that while governments might stand in the way, people will always find a
way to relate, communicate, and engage. As a traveler, you only need to
walk the streets, wander into a shop or participate in just one people
to people activity to discover that Cubans like Americans very much, and
Americans cannot help but liking Cubans back.
If you're considering traveling to Cuba like Beyoncé and Jay-Z, put
aside any misconceptions you may have about Cuba. I can assure you that
while it may not be the most luxurious vacation you'll ever take, it
will be one of the most meaningful experiences you can ever hope for.
Follow Peggy Goldman on Twitter: www.twitter.com/@FriendlyPlanet
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/peggy-goldman/traveling-to-cuba_b_3062395.html Continue reading