Skip to comments.Cuba's beauty still off-limits to Americans (Sally Grooms Cowal's sales pitch)
Posted on 03/28/2002 3:57:25 AM PST by Cincinatus' Wife
VARADERO, Cuba -- Sitting in the shade of a coconut palm, Jackie Haddad points to the aqua waves rolling ashore to explain why she and her husband returned to Cuba for the fourth year in a row.
"It's so beautiful -- we're stressed, and we want to relax," said the Canadian lingerie manufacturer. "And you get more for your money here."
Rumbling overhead, a vintage 1930s prop plane worthy of an Indiana Jones movie is the lone reminder that the Haddads are lounging in a land frozen in time and forbidden to most Americans.
For years, travelers like the Haddads have offended many Cuban exiles who think tourists perpetuate Cuban President Fidel Castro's authoritarian hold on power by infusing his fragile economy with hard currency. That view has long guided U.S. policy, which bars a majority of Americans from traveling to Cuba.
But exiles who hold the opposite view will gather in Miami today in hopes of showing that U.S. policy is being "held hostage" by a very small minority that is out of step with the rest of America.
Their conference, titled "The Time is Now to Reassess U.S. Policy Toward Cuba," might be just another academic footnote were it not for the guest speakers. For the first time in history, organizers say, former diplomats and members of Congress who support ending the travel ban and 40-year-old trade embargo against Cuba will push their opinions in a city where such discussion was once taboo -- and dangerous.
In years past, opponents have used bombs to try to silence those who think that engaging, rather than isolating, Cuba will lead to democratic reforms on the island.
"Normally, sitting congressmen would not speak in another congressman's district, especially when they are diametrically opposed to the hometown congressman," said Sally Grooms Cowal, former U.S. ambassador to Trinidad and Tobago who now directs the Cuba Policy Foundation.
U.S. Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Lincoln Diaz-Balart, both Miami Republicans, are the staunchest Castro foes in Congress and strongly support the U.S. embargo. Traveling to their hometown for such a conference, Cowal said, is like "going into the lion's den."
Cowal and U.S. Reps. William Delahunt, D- Mass., and Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., key members of a new Congressional working group on Cuba, will find themselves in the "lion's den" thanks in large measure to a 6-year-old boy who once lived in obscurity in a small town just outside Varadero: Elian Gonzalez.
Like many Americans, Cowal and Delahunt said, they paid little attention to U.S. Cuban policy until Juan Miguel Gonzalez waged his battle to return his son Elian to the island. That's when they began questioning why the United States continued to isolate Cuba when, after 40 years, it had yet to achieve its goal.
Their answer: For too long, presidential candidates hoping to win the state of Florida have allowed hard-line Cuban exiles to control the debate over U.S. policy -- at the expense of the national interest and national will. As evidence, Cowal points to polls showing strong American support for ending the travel ban and other sanctions on Cuba, as well as studies concluding the embargo is costing the U.S. economy at least $1 billion a year.
"Is there a company in the U.S. that wouldn't change its business practice if that practice was a 40-year failure?" Cowal said. "Freedom is contagious, and it's time to let Americans travel to Cuba so Cubans can catch it."
Flake, whose amendment ending enforcement of the travel ban overwhelmingly passed the House last year, agreed.
"We've argued for years that the best way to bring democracy to China is to engage them, send Americans there and have free trade and commerce, but then we turn around and say it won't work for Cuba," Flake said. "I'm no fan of Castro. . . but every American ought to have the right to see what a mess that man has made of that island."
Real Cuba hidden
To the dismay of the Cuban American National Foundation and other proponents of U.S. policy, many of Cuba's 1.77 million tourists, including many Canadians, don't see much of the real Cuba.
Like the Haddads, these travelers prefer the confines of their lush, seaside resorts where the biggest decision is what to choose from the ample buffet -- and where the Cubans who clean their rooms and serve their drinks are forbidden to stay. Even Cubans invited to visit foreigners at their hotels are turned away at the door.
Cuban officials defend such restrictions, saying they further the revolution's goal of building an egalitarian society. In other words, until all can afford to stay in Cuba's best hotels, none will -- unless they are being rewarded for stellar performance or are on their honeymoon.
Roberto Marty, chief of staff for Cuba's Minister of Tourism, said every couple married on the island is allowed three days in a neighborhood hotel while 400,000 of the "best workers, the best students, the best professionals and the best artists" are allowed a week at cut-rate peso prices.
Tourists who venture beyond Varadero or the other seaside resorts find a nation rich in natural beauty and historic architecture. They also find people struggling for food and housing and yearning for freedoms beyond the Castro revolution's claims of universal education and health care.
As David Podgornik, a metallurgist from Slovenia who recently toured the island with two friends, said, "There is no similar place in the world because of the system, because it's tropical, because of the people. Castro has done some good things for sure but, from our point of view, Cubans live in a cage."
And that's why Joe Garcia, executive director of the Cuban American National Foundation, says most Americans should continue to be barred from traveling to Cuba.
"Does a tour through a jail improve jail conditions?" Garcia asked. "I don't mind purposeful travel to Cuba -- people who help the dissident movement, or the independent library movement, or who go to rebuild churches. I'm all for that. What I'm not for is a stampede of Americans prolonging the Cuban people's suffering."
Delahunt, however, contends that a flood of Americans would do just the opposite. The Massachusetts congressman says Cuba's tourism infrastructure, which has grown from 12,900 hotel rooms in 1990 to more than 37,000 today thanks to Spanish, Italian and Canadian investors, could not handle an American onslaught. Such a flood, he said, would force the Cuba government to instigate the kind of economic reforms that sanctions have yet to achieve.
"The private sector would have to take a significant role in creating the infrastructure," Delahunt said.
Garcia scoffs at such an argument, noting that it ignores the very essence of the Castro regime: There is no private sector or private property in Cuba. The Cuban government owns and controls everything.
"It's like saying if you do business with the Mafia, you'll change them, you'll legitimize them," Garcia said.
"All you do is participate in their illegality."
Accusing many in the opposition of putting financial interests over moral interests, Garcia calls the polls showing Americans support ending sanctions as too broad to be meaningful.
He also dismisses the nine Cuban-Americans on the organizing committee of today's symposium as a "shadow group" with no influence in the exile community. But one of those organizers points to the conference itself as proof that Garcia is wrong.
"If we are so insignificant, why are these people of such stature coming to town -- to make fools of themselves?" asked Silvia Wilhelm, executive director of Cuban Bridges, which arranges exchanges in Cuba.
Maya Bell can be reached at 305-810-5003 or email@example.com.
Sally Grooms Cowal: Back in February of 2001 she was set up with money to head this "Cuba Policy Foundation" by Smith Bagley's pro-Castro Arca Foundation. (Bagley's a BIG DNC fundraiser-remember the "Elian" D.C. fundraisers?) Cowal previously headed Youth for Understanding and "housed" Elian and Cuba's delegation in D.C. until he was returned to Castro. Here is more on Sally Grooms Cowal and the Cuba Policy Foundation. Seven U.S. Representatives arriving with Sally Grooms Cowal
Left Wing Stooges create another front for Castro--[Excerpt] --In April, the "neutrality" of the CPF was questioned when it was honored by the officialist propaganda organ of the Castro dictatorship, Radio Havana. Radio Havana in its report ended up praising Grooms Cowal's efforts in starting the Cuba Policy Foundation by stating the following: "The Cuba Policy Foundation has challenged the ultra-right-wing Cuban-American National Foundation to a public debate concerning the merits of Washington's blockade of Cuba."
The CPF is bankrolled by the Arca Foundation. For those of you who don't know about the Arca foundation, it passes itself as a philanthropic organization that gives millions of dollars annually to organizations that fight for social justice around the world. Unfortunately a grand majority of these organizations are of a far leftist nature, like in 1998 when it gave $1,000 to an obscure contingent called Fondo Del Sol which helped surviving members of the Stalinist Abraham Lincoln Brigade view a photo exhibit on the Spanish Civil War! Among the pro Castro groups Arca has funded have been the Pastors for Peace ($10,000 in 1999), Global Exchange ($50,000 in 1999), and the TransAfrica Forum ($100,000).
Communist Cuba is the main focus of Arca's Foreign Policy grants list, and although it gives money to other international and domestic institutions, it annually gives a substantial amount of funds to causes dealing with communist Cuba. In 1999 alone, the Arca Foundation gave to over 19 organizations that are sympathetic to revolutionary Cuba. [End Excerpt]
Some answers. Al Neuharth: Why is China OK, but Cuba 'enemy'?
Here are the players in the fight for and against a free Cuba: Freedom Advocacy -Promoting freedom and human rights around the world, beginning with Cuba.
Cuba: A touching beauty-[Excerpt] "The old men are too frail to schlep luggage at hotels. And the old women can't seductively sidle up to foreign men and whisper enticements in their ears -- something you can see on any busy street, any day or night, in Old Havana Other old people pick up a few dollars by begging around Havana's exquisitely restored historic buildings, like those on the Plaza de Armas and the Plaza Viejo. Beggars aside, a tourist runs into examples of the corrupting power of dollars literally every day and in unexpected places. .. Education and health care typically combine to lower birth rates all over the world, but those achievements weren't what struck me most. It was how peaceable everyone was together. [End Excerpt]
Capitalism's on the sly in Cuba--[Excerpt] By way of explanation for his illicit trade, he holds up his right hand and says, "Look at this." His thumb and two adjacent fingers are missing. Six years ago, Miguel caught his wrist in the bakery mixer, badly mangling it. A month later, his fingers were amputated because he could not afford the three pills needed daily to induce circulation. They cost $1 apiece, and, at the time, he was paid in bread -- six loaves a day. [End Excerpt]
I agree with this. The Cuban people desperately need to talk to us, one by one, and hear what our lives are like. I don't agree that spending $600 for a week in Havana is putting too much money into Castro's coffers, when you balance it against the number of people you can talk to in a week. Tourists go to Varadero and other beach resorts by choice. If you get on a plane in Nassau or Mexico and fly into Cuba on your own, you can travel around at will. They keep an eye on you, but don't stop you from going where you want to go and speaking with everyone in your path.
The embargo shouldn't be lifted until Cuban exiles and other Cubans get their property back and free elections are held. But that's quite different from individuals visiting and making friends with Cubans. Stay off the state-sponsored tours, which take you only to those model hospitals and schools, and you have the run of the place.
I can just imagine an informal Freeper trip to Havana. Besides bringing in clothes and aspirin and other articles that the people would appreciate, we'd have the opportunity to speak up for democracy, which they all yearn for, and for capitalism, which they do not understand at all. We'd do them a world of good.
There are a lot of places to spend your dollars where you won't be subsidizing slavery.
The question isn't whether someone *should* travel to Cuba, it's why can't they if they want too (wihout being licensed, etc)?
The real answer is because our govt has it out for Castro as an individual, not communism, per se.
The Left calls that belief "exploitation" when expressed about anywhere else in the world that isn't a Communist dictatorship.
Rep. Delahunt is part of the useful idiots and fellow travelers crowd that dont care a dam about the suffering of the Cuban people and the menace Castro represents to the U.S.
Delahunt is perfectly aware that Cuba forms part of the terrorist axis Iran/Iraq/Cuba. Although the Russian dismantled right after the 9/11 attacks their spy and cyber-warfare base in Cuba, Castro still has a Chinese more modern a powerful one. Those bases have been eavesdropping in all our communications, and have invaluable intelligence gathering capabilities for terrorists and drug traffickers alike. Castro, during a trip to the terrorist headquarters in the Middle East, reaffirming his ties with the Islamic terrorist network, stated at the University of Tehran that their alliance would bring the U.S. down to its knees. He did not take long to prove it.
There is an insurmountable reason why American companies cannot invest legally in Cuba. There is no private property in Cuba and every investment is a joint venture in which Castro keeps the lions share and absolute control of the company. But, the worse part of the foreign investors pact with the Devil is that they cannot hire directly the workers, Castro provides the labor and keeps 95 to 97% of their salary. That huge bribe goes mostly to Castros private Bank accounts in Switzerland; the rest goes to keep his repressive apparatus. Castros force confiscation of workers salaries with the complicity of the foreign investor goes against international labor laws and our own laws.
Cuba has chemical, biological and cyber warfare capabilities and Castro has the will to use it against us. Pinhead politicians should not fool the American people, Castro once urged Soviet Prime Minister to nuke our cities during the Missile Crisis and has pledged since his early youth to destroy our country.
Castro, according to Forbes magazine is among the richest chiefs of state in the world while he brought about extreme poverty to Cuba, and you know quite well that two of Castros main sources of enrichment are the money laundering of drug traffic and terrorism.
Delanhunt is fool enough as to request Castros help against drug traffic. That is as irrational as trusting Castro in the war against terrorism. After the Soviet Union, Spain has been Castros main financial and political supporter. Nevertheless Cuba remains the main haven and financial sponsor for the Spanish Basque terrorists receiving also training, war material and the necessary intelligence back up. In a country where the average monthly salary is $9 dollars, the ETA,s terrorists living in Cuba receive $1,000 monthly.
To follow Rep. Delahunts advise would in fact aid and abet the main source of terrorism in this hemisphere while betraying our commitment in our war against two great evils, terrorism and drug traffic. By doing so, we would be abdicating our responsibilities to America's children.
BLIND HUMAN RIGHTS ACTIVIST BEATEN AND JAILED IN CUBA Braille BIBLE TAKEN AWAY 3-26-02 | JASON TAUB
SUBJECT: Visually Impaired Human Rights activist Juan Carlos Gonzalez-Leiva beaten and imprisoned by Cuban Government - Braille books taken away.
Your help is needed to take QUICK ACTION to help Juan Carlos Gonzalez-Leiva. He is a blind human rights activist and the director of the independent Agramonte Library in Ciego de Avila, Cuba as well as president of both the Cuban Human Rights Foundation and the Brotherhood of the Independent Blind People of Cuba. Mr. Gonzalez-Leiva was arrested along with several other human rights activists on March 5 in Ciego de Avila, Cuba.
Mr. Gonzalez-Leiva was severely beaten by government security agents and suffered a blow to the head, which required four stitches. Gonzalez and a number of other human rights activists had gathered at a local hospital in an attempt to draw attention to the plight of a journalist who had been admitted there after being attacked by Cuban police.
Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), a British-based human rights organization, has put out an emergency bulletin about the beating and arrest of Juan Carlos Gonzalez-Leiva, who is now on a hunger strike. Juan Carlos has been placed in a prison cell with a violent common criminal. Juan Carlos is BLIND and cannot defend himself from attack, so your assistance is needed to help him. The CSW bulletin contains information on his case.
For more information on this case please visit: http://www.csw.org.uk/Latestnews.asp?Item=261 http://www.cubanet.org/CNews/y02/mar02/25e5.htm RECOMMENDED ACTIONS:
Please contact the Cuban government. Letters should be sent urgently to the addresses below. If you have written previously on this case you should mention it.
1.Urge the Cuban government for the immediate release of Juan Carlos Gonzalez-Leiva on the grounds that he should not be prosecuted for exercising his right to freedom of expression.
2.Express concern at his state of health after he was beaten.
3.Ask for details of his current situation and for details of any medical care he is receiving.
4.Inform the Cuban government that there is a movement started to free Juan Carlos Gonzalez-Leiva.
Please send copies of your concise and civil letters to: Cuban Foreign Minister, Mr. Felipe Perez Roque. His e-mail address is: firstname.lastname@example.org
Cuban Libraries Head email@example.com
Cuban Interest Section Swiss Embassy, Washington, D.C. firstname.lastname@example.org
email@example.com fax at (202) 986-7283
Embassy of Switzerland
Cuban Interests Section 2630 16 Street N.W. Washington, D.C. 20009
Permanent Mission of Cuba to the United Nations New York, NY
VIA FAX: 212-779-1697 firstname.lastname@example.org email@example.com
Head of State and Government Dr Fidel Castro Ruz
Presidente de los Consejos de Estados y de Ministros La Habana, Cuba. Fax: via Ministry of Foreign Affairs: +53.7.333 085 / 335 261 Salutation: Su Excelencia/Your Excellency
Sr. Roberto Robaina González (Minister of Foreign Affairs) Ministro de Relaciones Exteriores
Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores
Calzada No. 360 Vedado
La Habana, Cuba
Fax: +53 7 333085 +53 7 335261 (
Salutation: Señor Ministro) Attorney-General
Your heart is good and your goal is admirable but you are one person. Tourists going to Cuba aren't flying down there to go on a humanitarian mission, they're there to soak up the sun. Most of them are from Europe. The Cuban people do have interaction with them, prostitution is one way many Cubans support themselves. Do you really think Castro would allow a FReep on his island? There is no dealing with a tyrant. The Cuban people know what they don't have.
They certainly made a lot of noise about Apartheid and they pushed for change.
They just never seem to have the same outrage for change when a communist dictator is running the show.
Sorry I didn't make myself clear. When I said an "informal" freeper trip, I meant a non-freeping trip made up of good hearted conservatives meeting people and just chatting with them about America and it's values. As you know, I did that a couple of years ago with 3 friends, and it was simply amazing what we learned from our new Cuban friends and what they learned from us. We still correspond with them, they cling to their friendship with us as it gives them "courage to go on." Meaning, the courage to live their grim lives and wait as long as it takes for Castro to die and their beautiful country to be free. Yes, most tourists want to soak up the sun (I soaked up plenty), but many get absolutely enthralled with life there and interact as much as possible with people on the street, not just those serving them in hotels.
They believe when Castro dies, they'll be free?
Absolutely. People in Havana have this mantra, "It'll be too late for me," if they're over 35, "I might have a chance," if they're under. Meaning, they might be young enough to enjoy freedom the minute the hated dictator dies. They talk about Castro's death every day. To each other, of course, not to "officials." Or to the press.
I would guess they stand a pretty good chance of making sweeping changes when Fidel keels over. If things don't loosen up, they'll riot in the streets. It will be a bloody mess! Their anger is so pent up, their longings so close to the surface, I don't think anyone will have Castro-like power over them again. Maybe it's all talk. But certain much less doctrinaire leaders have been mentioned as replacements for Fidel. The people may have a chance.
They need a good, basic education in capitalism. They don't have a clue. But they see it every day, as tourists arrive at those spiffied up old hotels in their nice clothes with good cameras and new shoes. The more tourists go to Cuba, the less satisfied Cubans will be with their dictatorship. I KNOW this. They want lives and opportunities for themselves and their children.
What do you think will happen when Castro goes to hell?
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