Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Vacation Travel to Cuba: How it shores up a totalitarian dictatorship

“Tourism only fuels the [Castro] regime's repressive machinery.” - Sirley Ávila León

Dr. Oscar Elías Biscet and Ambassador James Cason
 Today at the University of Miami the words of Dr. Oscar Elías Biscet on the current reality in Cuba and its parallels with the Apartheid regime led to a new reflection on tourism to the island.  In the past have written on the fact that the Cuba is a totalitarian dictatorship and visiting it will not lead to a better understanding of the island, but often just the opposite being turned into an agent of influence for the Castro regime. This has happened before to travelers who visited the Soviet Union during Stalin's mass killings and manufactured famines, or Nazi Germany in the midst of Hitler's holocaust. In both cases travelers returned praising the dictatorships and proclaiming that "they worked" and were the future.

Dr. Biscet today at the Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies explained that freedom to travel in Cuba remains non-existent and all travel is controlled by the Castro dictatorship.  Furthermore as was the case in South Africa during the Apartheid regime Cubans must show identification to travel between provinces, and report to the Committee in Defense of the Revolution if they wish to stay at the home of a friends or family member when traveling in the island.

Ana Margarita Perdigón Brito denied entry to her homeland to see ailing mother
The reality that Cubans do not have the right to enter and exit their homeland was also demonstrated today with Ana Margarita Perdigón Brito. She was born in Sancti Spíritus, Cuba and immigrated to the United States in March of 2012. Ana Margarita was forced to return at 10:00am this morning after having arrived yesterday at 2:00pm at José Martí International Airport. She had traveled to Cuba to see her mother who is ill and may soon die.

Ana Margarita shows cuts from broken glass during scuffle at airport (CubaNet)
The independent news platform CubaNet reported that Ana Margarita Perdigón Brito was an independent journalist who had worked with various independent publications, including CubaNet among them. CubaNet reached her brother, Pablo Perdigón who had gone to pick up his sister only to find as he informed the reporter: "A colonel from the airport told me that she is turned around, that I could not see her. I had to return to Sancti Spiritus, because we rented a car to go get her." Her brother added that the soldier who met with him told him "some glass was broken and she was injured." This was the second time she had tried to travel to Cuba, the first being in March of 2015 when she and her daughter were taken off the plane while it was still in Miami and told that she was not permitted to enter. However her Cuban passport remained valid and she thought she could try again at a future date. Yesterday she learned that was not the case and spent the night detained on the airport in Havana and was sent back to Miami today.

This is not the first time that a daughter born in Cuba is unable to return to see a dying parent. In the summer of 2013 Blanca Reyes, a Cuban national living in Spain was denied permission to see her dying father. Her dad died on October 15, 2013 and the grieving daughter tweeted: "My father died today in Cuba did not see him for 9 years the Cuban government stopped me. UNTIL WHEN MY GOD?"  Three years later and the question continues to resonate. Both Ana Margarita Perdigón Brito and Blanca Reyes were nonviolent civil society activists who respectively practiced journalism and defended human rights as a Lady in White. There is no reason that they should not be able to enter and exit their homeland, especially when a loved one is ill or dying.

However, some of the Cuban Americans that have been granted entry to Cuba ended their visits tragically.
  • Young Cuban American Víctor Barroso lost an arm on November 18, 2012 and spent 28 months falsely imprisoned following a car crash in Cuba. He went to Cuba to visit family and is now trying to raise funds for a prosthetic arm. 
  • On November 22, 2013 Brandon Bjorn Ross, a 31 year old American citizen visiting Cuba with his mother Onelia Ross, who is of Cuban origin, went out to take pictures in the early morning around the Hotel Nacional in Havana. The next time his mom saw him was at the morgue to identify her son's body. Government officials said that he had fallen from the roof of the hotel, but refused to provide Onelia an autopsy report and quickly cremated her son's body without her authorization. 
  • Alberto Romero (age 39), a Tampa based marital and family law attorney, was murdered in Cuba while visiting extended family on January 8, 2015. He was found tied up with a family friend, beaten, stabbed multiple times and with one hand severed.
There have been other cases involving non-Cubans over the years, but the fact that speaking the language and having family there does not guarantee a safe stay should speak volumes to prospective visitors.

Cuba remains an island under the brutal grip of a totalitarian dictatorship with an economy run by the military and the Castro family. This also means that tourism dollars go straight into shoring up the dictatorship's Ministry of the Interior and the Military. There is no due process and the legal system is subject to the arbitrary whims of the dictatorship. Reporting on outbreaks of disease are also subject to the whims of the dictatorship. Independent media are persecuted and outlawed and independent reporting on crime is incomplete and accurate information hard to come by.

Daisy B. Peñaloza, a preschool teacher residing in Bakersfield, California on June 28, 2016 wrote "Thinking about a vacation in Cuba? Don't" in The Bakersfield Californian that summed it up best:
Obama’s rapprochement has not empowered Cuban society. Every dollar that tourists spend in Cuba exclusively strengthens and enriches the billionaire Castro family and literally hurts the Cuban people. Worse yet, as in Nazi Germany, tourists unwittingly become tools of the regime. Communism in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union was toppled, not by tourism and commerce, but by economic ruin, a globally sustained dissident movement and persistent sanctions.
However she did allow that principled travel to the island could serve a positive purpose.
A humanitarian or religious visit, whereby the seeds of free expression are scattered and left to germinate, is the type of visit that will make a true and lasting difference in the lives of Cubans.
It is important to remember that Cubans do not have the freedom to travel in their own homeland and as Dr. Biscet observed are subjected to an internal pass system reminiscent of the South African apartheid regime. Visiting Cuba for sun and fun while Cubans are being discriminated against in their own country while tourism dollars go to perpetuate their repression is immoral.

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