Ladies in White

Cuba capitalism blinds tourists from Communist reality
George Diaz
Orlando Sentinel
“So when are you going to Cuba?”

I get that a lot, maybe once a week. It’s understandable, since I am a
home-grown Cubano, at least until I was almost 5 years old. That’s when
my parents, in an act of ultimate sacrifice, left everything behind
except their dignity and a sense of purpose to escape Fidel Castro’s thumb.

It’s the Cuban-American narrative. We’ll fast-forward through all the
tears and pain and hardships to get to 2017, when we are dancing on
Fidel’s grave and Cuba is now an alluring tropical paradise. Grab some
sunscreen, book a flight or cruise, and order a mojito with a side of
platanitos.

Everybody is Havana Daydreamin’!

Not I. I don’t begrudge anyone who wants to go. It is a beautiful place,
with a time-machine vibe. Hop on a ’57 Chevy and feel the ocean breeze
as you cruise down el Malecón.

Cuba still stands still in so many ways. The “normalization” of Cuba
under the Obama administration has unlocked the keys to free commerce,
but not the chains that bind dissidents and others under Cuba’s
dictatorial rule.

People still rot and die in prisons. Members of the dissident group
Ladies in White still get pummeled by cops and arrested.

Just last month, Cuban dissident Hamell Santiago Mas Hernandez died in
prison. Cuban officials called it a “heart attack,” a euphemism for when
a prisoner develops kidney failure, loses 35 pounds and rots away in a cell.

The U.S. does business with a number of unsavory nations, including
China, but the difference with Cuba is that there are a lot of
Cuban-Americans taking notes. They are passionate hall monitors who
don’t understand why the Obama administration didn’t squeeze Cuba on the
human-rights issue in return for the perks of tourism and groovy
American pesos.

Will things change under the Trump administration? Check your Twitter
feed for updates from 45. I suspect there will be more pushback, given
this snippet from the confirmation hearings for Secretary of State Rex
Tillerson:

“Our recent engagement with the government of Cuba was not accompanied
by any significant concessions on human rights,” he said. “We have not
held them accountable for their conduct. Their leaders received much
while their people received little. That serves neither the interest of
Cubans or Americans.”

He has a point. The purpose of negotiating is to get something in
return, not just give away stuff.

But there’s another dynamic in play here, too, that does not bode well
for Cuban tourism. The novelty is wearing off.

Silver Airways recently announced that it will scrap its service to Cuba
next month, citing low demand and competition from other airlines.
Frontier Airlines will cease its daily flight to Havana from Miami in
June. American Airlines and JetBlue have also scaled back their number
of flights.

Raúl Castro and his compadres are finding out that capitalism is driven
by market factors, and Cuba is still running the con trying to lure all
those Americanos.

The infrastructure is a little shaky, given the impact of the embargo
and other economic factors. Hotel reviews on TripAdvisor include handy
tips like “Don’t forget to bring and ‘USE’ bug repellent!!” and “I guess
you get what you pay for.”

Restrictions abound: There are 12 “authorized types” of travel to Cuba,
including educational, religious and journalistic purposes. And here’s
another fun fact from the U.S. embassy in Havana:

“The Government of Cuba does not recognize the U.S. nationality of U.S.
citizens who are Cuban-born or are the children of Cuban parents.”

That would be somebody like me. Cuba keeps meticulous notes on
journalists writing about the regime, and I probably would fill all the
checkmarks as an “enemy of the state.” Without any rights as a
naturalized American citizen.

I’m afraid there will be no Havana Daydreamin’ for me.

I prefer to visit my homeland one day free of restrictions. I want to
take in the ocean breeze from el Malecón without a cop asking for my
Cuban passport. I want to walk freely along the streets, without fear of
somebody monitoring my footsteps.

You don’t have to be in prison to wear shackles. You just can’t see them
when you disembark the cruise ship or an airplane.

gdiaz@orlandosentinel.com Read George Diaz’s blog at
OrlandoSentinel.com/enfuego

Source: Cuba capitalism blinds tourists from Communist reality –
Baltimore Sun –
www.baltimoresun.com/os-ed-cuba-human-rights-not-improving-george-diaz-20170317-story.html

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