The Freedom to Travel to Cuba Act

Alas, a quiet bill was introduced by the House of Representatives earlier this week and could finally bring an end to a near 50-year U.S.-Cuba standstill. While everyone else in Washington has been deliberating on the stimulus package, Democratic Representative from Massachusetts, William Delahunt proposed the Freedom to Travel to Cuba Act.

The proposed act hopes to end all travel restrictions for all U.S. citizens across the board. Some people still have concerns about the drastic effects this would have on travel to the still quite Communist country. In fact, the Cuban American National Foundation would like the bill to be amended to allow only Cuban exiles to visit the island whenever they wish to see family. The foundation wants to see restrictions to exist for American tourists until Cuba shows some indications of democratic reform.

President Obama has long been a proponent of alleviating the harsh ban on American travel to and from Cuba.

Regardless of the outcome, tourism in Cuba is hot compared to nearly all of the other travel destinations in the Caribbean and even in Latin America.

Boston real estate developer begs for open Cuba

“Whatever motivated the original break in the U.S.-Cuban relations,” Boston real estate developer Don Chiofaro wrote in a Saturday op-ed piece in the Boston Herald, “it is incomprehensible to me why it continues.” I guess he’s unfamiliar with the Cuban missile crisis and the fear of communism that pervaded the United States while he was growing up.

The topic of Cuba has come up a few times on the pages of Gadling over the past few weeks – and for good reason. Foreign visitors do find the country to be safe, and many have a great time visiting there. Cigar smokers (among which I count myself) eagerly await the day that the borders open and all those illicit Montecristos become legit. More than 45 years have past since the embargo was implemented, and a lot has changed. But, we need to be a tad realistic about the situation.

Cuba is still plagued by an abysmal human rights record, and many Cuban-Americans remember this aspect of their earlier lives without a shred of fondness. The company is ruled not by the vote of the people (even indirectly, as democracy functions up here) but by a single voice that mixes dictatorship with signs of royalty – just note that Fidel Castro turned control of the country over to his brother, Raul.

I’m not supporting the embargo, which I do suspect is anachronistic, but I do suggest that serious thought must be applied to U.S. policy. We need to do more than rely on the observations of a Boston businessman who took advantage of a boondoggle from friends in high places.

More realistically, Chiofaro is stinging from battles with Boston’s mayor, Tom Menino, and still hasn’t fully recovered from the near loss of his prized International Place towers back in 2004 and 2005. Or, the promise of land to be developed has probably caught his eye. Either way, he’s talking without thinking again, as he did when he referred to New York-based property development firm Tishman Speyer as a “gang of pirates.”

C’mon, Don. A builder should know the value of being “constructive.”

[Via Boston Herald]

Obama’s closure of Guantanamo already in sight

The Castro brothers in Cuba extended a warm welcome to Obama into the political limelight. This message was relayed through Argentina‘s President, Cristina Kirchner, who recently returned to Buenos Aires after a brief visit to Havana.

Within 24 hours, Obama has already halted proceedings involving two Guantanamo detainees and intended to close Guantanamo by the end of the year — and likely much earlier.
While most would like to see Gitmo gone as soon as possible, it appears there is a slew of red tape that could slow this process:

  • the decision must be made at the Cabinet level, and Clinton has been reluctant to conform to Obama’s views of Guantanamo in particular
  • the prisoners will be displaced and moved to several other prisons around the world, which still remains a logistical question mark
  • legal actions on all 200+ detainees must first be issued before official closure can occur

Amid the increased attention on Obama, Fidel and Raúl Castro, and Guantanamo, there still remains an awkward silent treatment among all parties. Obama has yet to open talks with Castro (or vice versa) and Gitmo prisoners are showing their displeasure through hunger strikes and complaints of harsh mistreatment.

Right now, Gitmo and relations between America and Cuba as a whole remains a “wait-and-see” endeavor, but with Obama comes a dramatic changing of the guard that could soften the strained emotions all are feeling right now.

[via the New York Times and AFP]

A wrap-up of Cuba news and stories

As my plans to travel there solidify, Cuba has been on my mind — and luckily quite present in the news! Here’s a wrap-up of some of the interesting stories coming from Castro country.

  • Taxis and transportation: Unlike his brother, Raúl Castro is encouraging independent drivers to apply for taxi licenses to improve transportation in major cities in Cuba.
  • Guantanamo hunger strikes reach a two-year high: Despite the looming closure of the Guantanamo prison, close to 50 prisoners are refusing to eat.
  • Fidel is lost but not gone: Venezuelan President and close friend of ailing Fidel Castro says the former Cuban leader, who has not been seen in public since July 2006, will likely stay behind closed doors.
  • Over 10,000 artifacts from Hemingway’s Cuban farm are being digitized: To literary historians’ delight, 2,000 documents, 900 maps, 3,000 photographs, and 9,000 books are being preserved for the Ernest Hemingway Museum in Cuba.
  • Dateline Havana on NPR: I heard a great program on NPR yesterday based on Reese Erlich’s book, Dateline Havana: The Real Story of U.S. Policy and the Future of Cuba, which touches on such ripe topics as organic farming and traveling musicians.

Cuba’s 50th anniversary

Cuba has a lot to mull over as it rushes in the new year. That’s because it’s no longer up to Fidel to make decisions about the nation’s state — particularly with regard to its relations with the world’s most powerful nations (Russia, China, and the United States to name a few…). It’s up to Fidel’s brother, Raúl, who officially took the reigns from an ailing Fidel back in February.

Fifty years ago today, Fidel Castro marched his revolutionary troops down to Havana and freed his nation from dictator Fulgencio Batista. It only seems fitting, then that this photo is Cuban propaganda that says, “Fight and conquer the impossible.” Let no one argue Fidel’s power and influence in Cuba. He entered the picture fifty years ago. The rest, they say, is history. Soon after Castro’s rising, the U.S. government banned exports and broke diplomatic relations with Cuba. The Bay of Pigs, the Cold War, Guantanamo are all marked in his nation’s history, indicating moments of victory, defeat, and uncertainty.
To be certain, this new year will be an exciting and perhaps tumultuous one for this Caribbean nation. The Guantanamo military prison, which Bush opened in January 2002 in response to the September 11 attacks, will likely close very soon. Some European countries such as France, Germany, Portugal, and Switzerland are considering taking in some Guantanamo detainees. Obama, once inaugurated, will likely open talks with Raúl Castro, possibly ending a near-fifty year cold shoulder and allowing greater ease in travel between the two countries. Citizens of both are optimistic.

Perhaps, when the next holiday season comes around, loved ones will not need to rely on web-based shopping sites to send gifts.