Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Personal Speculations About Medical Maladies in Cuba, Change in Travel Advisory and NSC Staffing

Making Sense of the Mysterious Maladies 

The New York Times over the Labor Day weekend published a front page article on the medical problems affecting US and Canadian diplomats in Cuba and China. The original postulate of sonic attacks has been discredited. The Times argument that the cause was a microwave attack is subject to serious debate, notably in Scientific American.  More troubling is that the article elevates the scientific specialist on microwaves into a policy analyst by giving unmerited credence to his speculation that Russia was responsible.

That presumes that Russia could carry out such an attack in two countries that would find it against their national interest.  The one constant in both circumstances is the US.  It is known that at least the initial targets of the attacks in Havana were intelligence operatives posted under diplomatic cover, a familiar practice by most countries.  A similar possibility is implicit in reports of who was targeted in China.  On the one hand that makes the idea of spy against spy covert combat more plausible.  On the other it raises the possibility that the source of the problem is some malfunctioning US counter surveillance technology by itself or in conflict with normal Cuban efforts to surveil.

Underlying the Times Russia thesis may be the not unjustified premise that deliberately or not many policies and actions of the Trump Administration have served Russia's strategic interests.  Certainly the exaggerated response by Secretary Tillerson of gutting the US Embassy staff by 60%, including relatively all consular functions, has crippled US engagement with and influence on events in Cuba during an historic transition.

The timing of attacks can be seen as deliberately aimed at provoking a response from the Trump Administration.  They began just after the election creating a new atmosphere of conflict for incoming officials, escalated in April when it seemed that Trump was not going to do anything to fulfill his campaign speeches in Miami, and were renewed in August after it was obvious that the only thing achieved in June was a hard line speech .

The theory that somehow Miami hard liners were responsible also fits that scenario, but does not explain the attacks in China.

The odd piece of the story are the attacks on Canadian embassy staff in April.  Could the US have shared its counter surveillance equipment?  Does that point the finger at Miami because of the long time animus from hard line exiles?  Why would Russia, China or an anti-US faction of Cubans attack Canada?  Canada responded much more cautiously to the problem, offering an option for staff who believed they were affected to return home, but with no change in total staffing or bilateral relations.  Having had no political impact on Canada, the attacks were not repeated.

A devastating consequence of Secretary Tillerson's abrupt withdrawal of 60% of US personnel is that visas for family reunions, legal migration and academic and cultural exchange have become far harder to obtain, requiring expensive trips to Guyana or other countries.  Initially I thought this was an unintended consequence, but given the xenophobia and anti-immigrant attitude pervasive in the Trump Administration, I wonder if sabotaging the US agreement to provide at least 20,000 immigrant visas annually may be a factor.

Two things on the positive side of Secretary Pompeo's ledger:

1)  The State Department Travel Advisory on Cuba was diminished from 3 to 2.  "3" means "Reconsider Travel";  "2" is  "Exercise increased caution" because of "the drawdown of embassy staff".  Worldwide 54 countries are labeled "2" , including 10 in the Western Hemisphere and 7 in Western Europe.  The full State Department list of travel advisories is here   

In addition to the better psychological atmosphere for people considerings visits to Cuba, the improved ranking removes a problem with insurance companies that restricted some university exchange and study abroad programs. 

2)  Secretary Tillerson had blocked visits to Cuba by official US delegations under the premise that they would be endangered.  Secretary Pompeo authorized the visit of three specialists in the maladies problem and then welcomed a Cuban delegation on the topic to the State Department.


Ultra Hard Liner Claver-Carone Heads Latin 
America Office of National Security Council 

 Here is the report from the Cuba Central September 1 news blast that reports Claver-Carone's anti-Trump record:

 During the 2016 Republican primary debates, Claver-Carone regularly criticized candidate Donald Trump via his Capitol Hill Cubans blog on issues ranging from Trump's stance on Cuba to his foreign policy views on the Middle East, Southeast Asia, and Russia, once publishing, "Trump would place the moral, international leadership of the United States at risk." Claver-Carone is well acquainted with Republican political circles; Jeb Bush tweeted in support of an announcement that Claver-Carone would join President Trump's team. However, Claver-Carone's senior role in the Trump Administration would be in contrast to the Administration's decisions to forego appointments for others in the GOP's Never Trump movement, including Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross' reported rescission, just last week, of an employment offer to a former official for his past "Never Trump" comments.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Travel Agent Guidelines for ASTA Conference

It’s still easy to sell Cuba!
  1.  President Trump made a hard-line speech in June 2017 in Miami, but did not change much.
  2. All types of purposeful travel authorized by the Obama Administration remain legal.
  3. Travel with groups or on cruises is completely unchanged.
  4. Hotel restrictions largely do not impact American used facilities and have a legal work-around.
  5. Independent travel by individuals, families and friends is also largely unchanged but now falls under the rewritten license category of “Support for the Cuban People” instead of “People to People”.
  6. The withdrawal of 60% of US diplomats was connected to mysterious medical problems that affected only them and Canadian counterparts.  Now it is happening in China.   It is totally unknown who or what is responsible, but the goal of cooling relations succeeded, as postulated by Sen. Marco Rubio.   
  7. The State Department was required by internal rules to issue a Travel Warning because the peremptorily reduced staff could not provide the normal level of citizen services.
  8. There has not been a single confirmed case of similar health symptoms from the 4 million visitors to Cuba last year including 650,000 Americans. No other country has issued any kind of health advisory.  The International Tourism Fair in Madrid judged Cuba the “Safest Destination in the World”.

How to do FIT with Cuba
  1.  Book tickets on American, Delta, Jet Blue, Southwest or United to Havana, Santa Clara or Holguin and soon Santiago.
  2.  Select “Support for the Cuban People” as the type of travel your clients are undertaking.
  3. Use AirBnB to reserve a room or an apartment (casa particular) from a private owner.
  4. Provide a list of private restaurants (paladares) for lunch and dinner.
  5. Suggest places to buy handicrafts, etc. from self-employed venders (cuenta propistas).
  6. If they need a guide, contract with her or him privately.
  7. Whatever they do, wherever they go, they must be intentional and responsible that their goal is “a full-time schedule of activities that enhance contact with the Cuban people … and that result in meaningful interactions with individuals in Cuba.”  (The conscientious judgement of what qualifies is only theirs.)
  8. Apportion recreational activities like concerts, dancing and the beach as in a normal work week.
  9. They should keep a journal or a list of their “meaningful interactions” for five years.
  10. Charge a fee for advisory services.

Links for local guides and places to stay

Current US government regulations

Irish links to Cuba

Petition for the end of the travel warning and all restrictions

Most cruises leave from Florida but only offer a day or two in Havana as part of a Caribbean sailing.  A new option will only visit Cuban ports.  Cubans on board will provide music, dance, cooking and presentations on history and culture.   We will organize a reasonable cost Fam trip via Havana as soon as available .

Fund for Reconciliation and Development   917-859-9027

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Hatuey performance in Montclair, NJ


HATUEY: Memory of Fire is a soaring Cuban-Yiddish opera, a love story set in a Havana nightclub in 1931. Oscar, a young Jewish writer who escaped the pogroms in the Ukraine to make a new home in Cuba, falls in love with Tinima, a beautiful singer and passionate revolutionary of Taino descent. As Oscar pens an epic poem about Cuba’s legendary 16th century freedom fighter, Hatuey, Tinima draws him into her fight against the corrupt Machado regime. This vibrant fusion of Afro-Cuban and Yiddish music and culture is also a powerful celebration of freedom performed in English, Yiddish, and Spanish with English supertitles.  (An earlier version of the show was produced in March 2017 in Havana by Ulises Aquino and Opera de la Calle. )

In real life, Oscar was Asher Penn. According to The Forward, “In 1931, Yiddish poet, journalist and editor Ascher Penn published Hatuey, a 126-page epic poem about a Taíno chieftain who fought against the Spanish invasion of Cuba at the beginning of the 16th century, and who was eventually burned at the stake in 1512. Born in 1912 in Ukraine, Penn immigrated with his parents to Cuba in 1924 following a pogrom in his native shtetl of Gaysin. In Hatuey, Penn drew on the experience of the pogrom to describe the massacre of Taíno natives by the Spanish, and expressed his admiration for Taíno history and culture. … Indeed, the poem reverberates with sympathy for the Taíno, whose plight Penn understood only too well.”

In Hatuey: Memory of Fire, a young Jewish man escapes pogroms and lands in Havana. He falls in love with a Cuban cabaret chanteuse with a fierce anti-colonial temper. Shattered by the memory of the gruesome attacks in his home village, Oscar identifies her cry for freedom as his own. She tells him of Hatuey, a Taino warrior of the early 16th century who challenged the Spanish conquistadors in Cuba. Hatuey lost his life in a fireball bound to a stake. When his persecutor asked whether he would go to heaven or hell, Hatuey asked, ‘Where will you be?’ ‘I will be in heaven,’ said the conquistador. ‘Then I will go to hell,’ declared Hatuey, forever memorializing his tragic fate.  The real Oscar, Asher Penn, wrote an epic poem about Hatuey to honor Cuba, his new home. That poem inspired this new opera-theater work. Written by Elise Thoron with music by Frank London, Hatuey: Memory of Fire is performed by Cuban, Honduran, Greek, Jewish, and Dominican Americans in Yiddish, Spanish, and English with Afro-Cuban beat.

Montclair State University

Saturday, September 22 @ 8:00 pm (includes post performance talk by Ulises Aquino, director of Opera de la Calle)

Sunday, September 23 @ 3:00 pm (Ulises Aquino will also attend)

Montclair State University is 12 miles from NY and can be reached by public transit.

Bus options from Manhattan for the final matinee performance


Board : Bus No 197 toward RINGWOOD PARK/RIDE
Board : Bus No 28 toward NWRK PENN STA MONTCLAIR ST_U-Exact Fare
Walk 0.46 mile N to Montclair State University


BUS #66  WESTBOUND FROM NEW YORK  to Montclair, catch the 1:30pm #66 bus from Port Authority and let the Bus driver know you'd like to get off as close to Montclair State University as possible, which will be the corner of Mount Hebron and Valley Road (there is a little Methodist church on the corner) you should arrive there by 1:50 or 2:00pm. Take a left and walk toward the campus, cross the street and proceed up a small hill onto campus (10 - 15 minute walk) we are the third to fourth building on your left above the Red Hawk Parking deck.