Rescue By Cruise Ship Not A Happy Event

We might think that being rescued by a cruise ship, after floating in the ocean for days or weeks, would be a good thing. Cuban refugees, commonly found on or close to routes traveled by cruise ships, are brought aboard to be cared for. Cheering passengers feel good about it all but for the refugees, a hot meal on a cruise ship is about the last thing in the world they want.

It’s called the “Wet Foot, Dry Foot” policy that allows Cubans who reach U.S. soil on their own to take a fast track to permanent residency. But if they get picked up by a helpful cruise ship, they most likely go back to Cuba.

“The cruise line usually takes them on the ship, calls the U.S. Coast Guard who sails out to the scene, and the Coast Guard processes the refugees and sails them back to Cuba where they end up in Castro’s jails,” says maritime attorney James Walker on his CruiseLawNews website.

Friday night, some floating refugees apparently knew all about the Wet Foot, Dry Foot policy, refusing to be rescued by Royal Caribbean’s giant Oasis of the Seas. On board was our friend @NomadicMatt who tweeted, “Our cruise ship just stopped to help rescue Cuban refugees in raft that was stranded at sea.”But it did not take long for refugees to take on food and water then continue on their way, trying to leave before the U.S. Coast Guard arrived.

“There is a lot of yelling on the raft and at times they look like they are trying to get away as they know the coast guard was called,” tweeted @NomadicMatt.

Odds are, the Coast Guard found the refugees, picked them up and will send them back to Cuba. But in the cover of night, they might have eluded authorities and made it to shore on their own.

“Let’s hope the winds and currents and the grace of God bring the refugees ashore tonight and they plant their feet on U.S. soil and can begin free lives here in America,” concluded Walker.

[Flickr photo by TarikB]


Cubans Rescued from Adrift Raft

Cuba’s Classic Cars: Catch Them While You Can

cuba classic cars

There are few places in the world where you can find modern Toyotas sharing the streets with Model T’s, and Cuba is one of them. The country’s abundance of classic cars may be the result of historic trade restrictions, but it’s also a key element of Cuba’s romantic, stuck-in-time ambience.

Why does Cuba boast so many classic cars? Until last October, Cuban residents were forbidden from buying and selling vehicles without the government’s permission. Only automobiles purchased before the 1959 Cuban Revolution could be freely traded, forcing car owners to use creativity and craftiness to make their existing vehicles last. By outfitting their old cars with replacement engines, fixtures, lining and paint, many have been able to significantly extend the lives of their vehicles, instead of sending them to the junkyard as we’re so quick to do in the Western world. In fact, most cars you’ll find on the street resemble a mash-up of different parts: a hubcap here, a dashboard there, topped off with a dash of house paint and often a Playboy bunny sticker.

%Gallery-159262%But last October, President Raul Castro (Fidel’s brother, for those unversed in Cuban history) announced that Cuban residents would now be able to buy and sell cars “without any prior authorization from any entity,” for the first time in 50 years. According to Reuters, the new law is one of many reforms intended to put a greater emphasis on private initiative, a notion that has largely taken a backseat under Communist rule.

While the new law is a definite step forward for Cuban society, it does mean that owners of classic cars will be less motivated to maintain their vehicles, now that they have the freedom to trade up for new ones. But during a recent trip, the new law hadn’t seemed to have made much of an impact – yet. The streets of central Havana were filled with propped-up hoods and self-taught mechanics, and on the Bay of Pigs was parked a perfectly preserved 1929 Ford Model T, at our service. “Original engine,” our driver boasted, beaming.

Still, change is in the air, and the chance to ogle beautifully preserved classic cars may not exist for much longer.

Cuba Eases Car Sales After 50-Year Ban

Dive Communist plane off the coast of Bulgaria

dive communist planeFish are pretty and shipwrecks are cool to explore, but how would you like to dive a

Communist airplane in the Black Sea? A 1971 Soviet-made Tupolev-154 was submerged this week off the coast of Bulgaria to create an artificial reef for SCUBA divers. Orlin Tsanev, chairman of Black Sea Dive Odesos association, told Reuters: “The submerging of the plane aims to make it an attraction and (a place) for training divers.”

Made for former Bulgarian Communist ruler Todor Zhivkov, the plane’s engines and interior were removed and the body of the aircraft is now 22 meters deep, making it the largest plane underwater in the world. The plane has been grounded since 1999 but once also carried Communist leaders such as Fidel Castro. Zhivkov’s private yacht was previously purchased for cruises on the Danube River.

The new dive site is located near the resort town of St. Konstantin and Elena, just north of Bulgaria’s “summer capital” of Varna. Read more about travel in Varna here.

Photo courtesy AP

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]

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.