What Embargo? It’s Christmas in Havana

Christmas in Havana
(In this Dec. 16, 2010 photo, Wilfredo Martinez Jr. of Miami writes the word ‘Fragile’ on a television set he is taking on his flight to Cuba at Miami … More photos @ AP including worship at the Shrine of Saint Lazarus 2010)


Cuban-Americans visiting Cuba are hauling in the mother lode of goods …

HAVANA – In Cuba, Santa’s sleigh is a Boeing 737.

Thousands of Cuban-Americans are heading to Havana this holiday season carrying everything from electronics and medicine to clothing and toiletries to help relatives back home supplement monthly salaries averaging about $20.

Not only are Cuban-Americans visiting the island in far greater numbers since President Barack Obama lifted travel restrictions last year, they are bringing more stuff. One carrier says the average bag weight per passenger is up 55 percent — and many Miami-Havana flights are shadowed by a separate cargo plane just to haul the load.

“They bring you things for the family,” said Paulo Roman Garcia, a 45-year-old Havana native who makes $9.50 a month selling fruit at a market in the city’s historic quarter.

Roman Garcia was looking forward to a visit in the New Year from his older brother, who lives in New Jersey and will be coming down with stocking-stuffers such as clothing and treats, as well as big-ticket items including a stereo.

“My son has asthma, and he’s bringing inhalers for his asthma,” Roman Garcia said. “Medicines are very important. Some don’t exist here, or they’re hard to find.”

During the administration of former President George W. Bush, Cuban-Americans were allowed to visit only once every three years and were limited to $100 a month in remittances. Those restrictions ended in April 2009, although most non-Cuban Americans are still barred from traveling to the island.

Cuba watchers and charter flight operators say travel between the United States and Cuba skyrocketed after the change and continues to climb steadily.

“About 1,000 visitors are arriving a day from the U.S., and they expect somewhere close to 400,000 by the end of the year,” said Kirby Jones, president of Alamar Associates of Bethesda, Maryland, a consulting firm that works with American companies looking to do business with Cuba.

“The U.S. is now sending the second-most visitors to Cuba than any other country,” after Canada, Jones said.

The great majority are of Cuban heritage, and the rest are non-Cuban Americans traveling for officially sanctioned activities such as academic, cultural and sports exchanges. The figure does not include the small but growing number of Americans who sidestep the travel ban by flying in through Canada, Mexico or other countries, risking a stiff U.S. fine if they are caught.

Traffic is even greater during the busy holiday season, when charters add additional flights that quickly fill up. Miami airport officials said 55 flights are scheduled to depart to four Cuban cities this weekend, among the heaviest travel days leading up to Christmas.

At Havana’s Jose Marti International Airport, Cubans crowded up against a low metal fence last week, straining to watch for loved ones as they emerged from customs pushing carts piled high with shrink-wrapped luggage, kitchen appliances, televisions, stuffed animals and cardboard boxes bursting at the seams. (Read in full)



13 thoughts on “What Embargo? It’s Christmas in Havana

  1. No, Flake is not an idiot. He is an otherwise good congressman fighting against the trends in high government spending here. He despises communism and Castro. He is a good legislator who is wrong about the embargo. He is also smart and a good American.
    He believes that overwhelming the Cuban infrastructure with tourists will destroy the Cuban government. We know that doesn’t work and he is just plain wrong about that. But at least he is not like the “Cuba experts” who give misinformation. He is merely a foolish idealist. That’s true. But he is not an idiot. He’s just wrong about the embargo.

  2. Flake may not be an “idiot” but he sure has been useful to the castros. His infatuation with the brothers goes back a long way. Just search the Babalu archives for a taste. One can speculate that Flake had way too much fun on a visit to Havana, and they have it on tape.

  3. Ah, Ziva, I didn’t think of that.
    He never showed me any infatuation with the Castros. He spoke very ill of them to me.
    But perhaps you are right about those tapes. Ouch.

  4. Very well said George, very well said. I would not say it is the reason, but surely one of the big reasons. Castro plays them like a Nintendo and cashes them like an ATM. No will, no morals, no stance, and no maturity. I’ll never forget a Cuban woman with whom I stumbled in Puerto Rico’s Luis Muñoz Marin International Airport complaining about how BUSH does not allow her to see her family. Given the fact that she could have been my grandmother I didn’t bother much with a blunt response but in the face of so much myopic imbecility I was certainly repulsed at her and all of those whom she represented, sadly many.

    (No ma’am, you didn’t leave your nation nor family because of Bush, the one that kidnaps your family to misery for cheap labor, ransom, and slavish dependance, betrayed, isolated, slaved, ruined your nation, and didn’t allow you to live nor put foot in it for decades is called Castro and if Castro is today allowing you to visit the sect camp and send dollars is because HE needs them for his survival, a survival based on imposing and reenforcing the same oppression that keeps you here and your family in continuos misery while you gladly continue paying him and his subordinates for it. It should not be Bush the one realizing this nor the one stoping Cubans from financing those that oppress their nation and insult them, joder…)

  5. Honey, just speculation, but how else to explain his advocacy for the regime? IMO either he is a closet liberal drinking the kool-aid, or they have something on him.

    Here’s a few informative links you may have missed:





  6. I’ve read all of what you asked me to consider here, Ziva. Thank you.
    Remember, I do not agree with Flake on his stance. He may not be telling me the truth and you may be right about some video of him somewhere, but there are two other things to consider:
    1. Arizona voters know Flake’s opinions and they vote him in each time. They are very much interested in tight border security, yet they vote Flake in every time. I would suspect that those who voted for him, being deficit hawks, anti communists, and conservatives, are overwhelmingly in support of the embargo, yet they vote him in.
    2. I spoke with Flake personally for at least a half hour. At any moment he could have cut me off by saying he made his point, now that’s enough. But he listened and answered everything I said. He gave me all the time I wanted. After all, I am nobody. Why was he so patient with me when I was vehemently in disagreement with him on one of his core opinions? He read a long letter I wrote him and answered every point in it. Whenever he sees me since then, he remembers who I am and that I disagree with him, yet he remains cordial and never impatient with me.
    His claim was he refused to meet with Castro or known members of his entourage, that he despises communism and that his motivations are to bring Castro down and his opinion is that this is the best way to accomplish that. He visited with many dissidents whenever he was in Cuba.
    He thinks tourism from all countries is minor compared with the inundation American tourism would bring in sheer numbers and it would overwhelm the country and its infrastructure and that would be the way to bring down the tyrants, which is his ultimate goal. He says in addition, the information that Cubans would be getting from this greater inflow of Americans would do more to undermine the government than the embargo.
    I asked him what gives him the idea that Castro would be willing to allow all of these great numbers of new tourists? Has Castro shown himself to be stupid over the years? I also asked him what embargo? etc…

    Now, he is wrong. We all agree on that. But I didn’t get the impression that he was evil or only looking out for profit for citizens of Arizona. I don’t think I am easily brainwashable. Our entire exchange was collectively an hour, one on one. He cared about persuading me. I told him babalublog utterly disagrees with him and they are conservatives who happen to be Cuban, that these are not liberals. He was not resentful or irritated. He was pleasant and really trying to make his case. I was disappointed that I was unable to persuade him. But he did not give me the impression that he was Stephen Spielberg for one second – or Ron Paul. That is my only point.
    Most conservatives I talk to if I ask them about their opinions on the embargo, I get an immediate, “I am against it.” Most liberals, of course, as you might expect, give me the usual crap, “If something hasn’t worked for umpteen years…” Conservatives seem to have thought it out and come to the right conclusions. I don’t see Flake as someone who is ready to change his mind on this issue. Too bad. We know how hard it is when someone is convinced he is right to give up on anything.
    Was Flake misrepresenting himself? I didn’t get that impression.

  7. Honey, I think we’ll just have to agree to disagree. For me, a politician’s stance on Cuba is like the canary in the mine. It’s a pass or fail, and for years, Flake has been aligned with apologists for the Castro regime, and campaigned for the interests of the Castro regime, against the interests of U.S. taxpayers. And, he’s met with plenty of Cuban officials that he’s acknowledged publicly, (I’ve seen photos) they include but are not necessarily limited to: Felipe Perez Roque, Ricardo Alarcon, Fernando Remirez, Pedro Alvarez, and Cardinal Jaime Ortega.(We now know for sure who he works for) If it quacks like a duck, walks like a duck, and hangs out with other ducks….He attends press conferences in Havana, has photo ops walking around, meets with dissidents, all of course allowed by the tyrant in chief, and always at the end of the day he’s legislating for what the castro’s want.

  8. There may be little or no practical point in discussing this situation, since it’s not going to change, only escalate. There are, of course, cases where remittances of money or goods, trips, etc. are justified and essentially inevitable. No reasonable person would ask, let alone expect, to prevent those (even though they inevitably benefit the Castro dictatorship). The problem is the huge amount of non-essential aid being pumped into Cuba by Cubans abroad, and the absolutely incredible degree of frivolity, shamelessness and indolence displayed (often flagrantly) by all too many “exiles.” Some blame the US government for not being more strict or hardnosed, but that’s a secondary issue. It’s up to Cubans themselves to exercise due judgment, control and, yes, dignity and self-respect. If so many Cubans don’t give a shit, or at least act like they don’t, why should the US government?

    As I’ve said before, the window of opportunity between the end of the Soviet subsidy and the beginning of the Chavez subsidy was simply wasted. Cubans abroad kept the parasite that is Castro, Inc. sufficiently well fed to survive. True, amoral foreign investors and tourists also did their part, but it was not their country or their people being kept in totalitarian hell, so they couldn’t be expected to care the same way. By now, the situation is so far out of control it’s appalling. There’s virtually no discrimination or discernment being used, as if it were a race or competition to see who can send the most, travel most often, and/or make the biggest splash.

    As for Flake and others like him, no matter how ignorant, deluded or well-intentioned someone may be, if that person is somehow aiding or abetting Castro, Inc. then that person is an enemy of Cuba and Cubans, which includes me. It’s way too late in the game to give anybody the benefit of the doubt. Cuba’s been in the hole too deep and too long, and there’s simply no room now for any sort of useful idiocy.

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