The past half year has been very discouraging for many American travelers to Cuba, and the guides who take them there. Numerous American individuals and groups have cancelled their visits due to a series of Fake News articles and reports. If you haven’t been following this situation closely, you can update yourself by clicking on the links to two articles below.
If you would like a concise update on Cuba Travel today, read on. I will try to be brief. For more details, read the articles and do your own research.
Today–mid-February 2018–it continues to be legal, safe, and easy for Americans to visit Cuba. The numbers of visitors from almost all other countries have increased this year. Kid-friendly Cuba is the favorite getaway spot for Canadians and their families. Cuba visitors from Canada and other countries often joke about how “really stupid” Americans are to believe the Fake News articles that have been written by those with a financial interest in adversely affecting Cuba’s economy. Whenever you read an article attacking Cuba, ask yourself, “Who benefits by such Fake News? Who suffers? Things will begin to make more sense to you. Time and again, an article will claim that the Cuban Government has done something evil to its people. Then the U.S. Government responds with an activity or policy change that causes more suffering among everyday Cubans, but does not adversely affect Cuban Government officials in any way.
Do you know who REALLY supports the Cuban people?: Visitors from all over the world. They go, have fun, and spend money. They visit incredible historic sites, beautiful nature preserves, and festive musical venues. Please note that these visitors include those from our best allies, including the UK, western European nations, Australia, Japan, and Canada. Now that you understand this as an American, YOU can also support the Cuban people. I urge you to go as soon as possible. Have fun and make friends. Just be ready for that frequently-asked question from well-meaning Canadian and European tourists: “So why does your government continue to screw-over these poor Cuban people who seem to love you Americans so much?”
Our group of 14 health care professionals just returned from Cuba this week. Except for myself and our assistant guide, everybody was a first-time visitor.
About half of our group flew on Alaska Airlines from LAX to Havana. Unlike on past Alaska flights, this one was only about 40% full. Only 65 of 160 seats had passengers. The airline employees were very disappointed that these non-stop flights would be cancelled in mid-January, due to lack of customers. The check-in person, the staff who sold the mandatory tourist card, and the flight crew all expressed sadness that there would be no more flights. They really enjoyed traveling to Cuba.
After arriving in Havana, we met up with the rest of our travelers who had flown in from various other U.S. airports. We checked into our BnB’s, located in the Vedado district close to the University of Havana. After that, we went out to dinner.
For the next several days we visited medical venues as well as historical sites. Our health care stops included the Ministry of Health, a local doctor’s office, a pediatric hospital, an orthopedic hospital that treats patients from other countries, a nursing school, and a small local clinic up in the mountains in a rural part of Cuba. The rest of the time we spent learning about Cuban culture, history, and U.S.-Cuba relations. So in addition to all the health care venues, we saw all the highlights that a first-time visitor to Cuba would expect to see, such as the Presidential Palace Museum and Hemingway’s country estate. (For more itinerary details, click on “Expeditions/Our Expeditions.”)
As always, we found Cuba to be safe and friendly, but there were noticeably fewer American visitors this time. Our travel company said that many tours had been cancelled, so that the economy was considerably depressed. Many Americans were simply frightened away because of some misunderstandings. Last summer, President Trump promised a small minority of Cuban-Americans in Miami that he would make it more difficult for Americans to visit Cuba. The regulations eventually were only slightly modified, but the perception was that it would now be more complicated to travel to Cuba. (It isn’t.) In addition, there were vague, non-specific reports about acoustic waves that supposedly affected American and Canadian diplomats. These reports kept changing, and it is still not clear what happened. The US specifically did not blame Cuba for these incidents (which have now stopped), but a travel advisory was issued. Of course, the Canadian government did not issue an advisory, but then again they also have a rational policy that allows its citizens unrestricted travel to Cuba.
Everybody in our group made it home without difficulties. Some expressed a desire to return to Cuba soon. It would greatly benefit both our countries if more Americans decided to visit Cuba this year. Personally—I can hardly wait to go back.
Much has been written lately about the new Cuba travel guidelines recently announced by the Trump administration. The results of these changes were fairly predictable: dozens of new printed pages, but few significant changes for Americans. The most notable item makes it more complicated for individuals to legally travel to Cuba, but it is not impossible. Personally, I wouldn’t hesitate to travel there by myself, but this issue is sometimes difficult to understand for those who have never been there.
Along with the mysterious so-called “acoustic incidents,” the new guidelines have discouraged many first-time visitors from going to Cuba. Many trips were cancelled. Alaska Airlines cancelled (temporarily) its once-a-day flights from LAX to Havana after January 18.
Travel “advisories” have been issued by the U.S.government. Predictably, this hasn’t affected Cuban government leaders, but it has become very difficult financially for many independent Cuban entrepreneurs—the people America should be supporting. This is a complicated subject, but consider: no other countries—including our ally Canada—have issued any Cuba travel advisories.
Fortunately, it looks like this trend (fewer American visitors) has bottom-out, and Americans are once again considering visiting our beautiful, safe, and friendly neighbor to the south. Raul Castro will step down on February 24, so 2018 is shaping up to be a much better year. For many reasons, most of us are looking forward to a better year for both the Cuban people, and for our fellow Americans.
Tomorrow, October 26, 2017, the US government is scheduled to release the classified government documents about the assassination of President Kennedy. Congress mandated the release of these still-secret documents 25 years ago in 1992. (Some earlier headlines indicated “Trump to release JFK Files on Thursday.” Actually, he doesn’t need to do anything, but he can decide to block release of some or all documents.) Apparently some members of different US Intelligence agencies have urged President Trump to not release the files. Why?
Reportedly most historians believe these documents will not add significant light to the Kennedy assassination. But if this is true, then why was the release delayed for 25 years—54 years after the assassination?
Although President Kennedy was very popular among the majority of Americans, there were at least six distinct individuals or groups that had motives to carry out the assassination. The first suspect was Vice President Lyndon Johnson, who had a running battle with Kennedy during almost 3 years of their administration together. (Johnson was only added to help balance the ticket.) Obviously if Kennedy was killed, Johnson would become president. Johnson later indicated that he strongly believed that Fidel Castro was responsible for JFK’s death.
The American Mafia had several reasons to want Kennedy removed. Attorney General Bobby Kennedy went after the mob early in the new administration, in what appeared to be some type of double-cross. Joseph P. Kennedy Sr.—the father of the Kennedy brothers— reportedly had made arrangements for special considerations for the mob if they helped “get the vote out” in the presidential election of 1960 in targeted states that Jack Kennedy eventually won. The Mob believed they would be rewarded, not persecuted and prosecuted.
Central Intelligence Agency officials distrusted Kennedy. Its faulty intelligence reports led to the disastrous Bay of Pigs Invasion 3 months after Kennedy took office. President Kennedy reportedly said he wanted to “splinter the CIA into a thousand pieces and scatter it into the winds.”
The Joint Chiefs of Staff of the US Military also hated Kennedy. They recommended the Bay of Pigs Invasion, and later recommended and planned a full-scale invasion of Cuba before as well as during the Missile Crisis.
The Cuban Exile Community in Miami felt Kennedy betrayed them by not ordering a second bombing strike of Cuban aircraft just before the Bay of Pigs Invasion. After the first strike, Kennedy realized that the invasion was a disastrous mistake. The Cuban-Americans in Miami felt that if Kennedy had ordered the second strike, Cuba would have been freed of Castro and would once again be “free.” In reality, military historians believe that a second air strike would have only prolonged this 3-day “war” into a 4-day fiasco.
Finally, Fidel Castro probably had the most “justifiable” reasons to assassinate America’s president. He greatly admired the United States. Shortly after the Cuban Revolution succeeded, he asked the US for assistance. Instead, the US Navy and Air Force, using Cuban exiles, invaded Cuba at the infamous Bay of Pigs on the south coast. (The US believed they could convince the world that the US military was not involved, but this story fell apart as American aircraft were shot down and American ships were sunk.) This occurred just 3 months after Kennedy became president. After this embarrassing episode, the US drew up plans for a massive, D-Day style invasion by all branches of the military. It would have been terribly bloody—the US apparently had no idea of the level of support that Castro had at the time. Before this massive invasion could be launched, Castro asked the Soviet Union (Greater Russia) for protection, so nuclear-tipped missiles were shipped to Cuba to repel this invasion. After pre-invasion reconnaissance aircraft discovered these missiles, a tense 2-week period followed. This period was known as the Missile Crisis everywhere else in the world. But in the U.S. it was called the CUBAN Missile crisis, even though Cuba had no missiles of its own. There are several versions of the negotiations that followed, but 30 years later it was confirmed that (a) the U.S. indeed had planned a full-scale invasion and (b) the crisis was resolved when Kennedy simply pledged not to invade Cuba.
Since this massive invasion was no longer an option, a series of unsuccessful assassination attempts of Castro followed. Just before Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas on November 22, 1963, Lee Harvey Oswald visited the Cuban Embassy in Mexico City.
There are probably other individuals and groups that wanted Kennedy removed. Perhaps 2 or more of these elements conspired with, or assisted each other. There has been speculation that whomever was responsible would likely promote a variety of other theories to create mass confusion. There have been books, movies, articles, and other media produced which “prove” who was responsible for killing Kennedy. Each convinced various Americans that they were absolutely sure who did it.
In conclusion—it is very important to keep in mind that the US and the Soviet Union were engaged in a Cold War before and after the success of the Cuban Revolution. American leaders led themselves to believe that some smaller countries would unfortunately have to be sacrificed and suffer deeply and unfairly because of the ideological battle between these two super powers. Cuba has experienced far more than its share of suffering due to misinformation about its role in the world. Even today, many Americans still believe that the Russians almost started World War III by recklessly shipping nuclear-tipped missiles to Cuba for no reason. One possible scenario that we might have imagined after hearing from our leaders in the early 60’s is: “Yeah—those damned Commie Ruskies were just sitting around bored one day, eating borscht and drinking vodka. Somebody said, ‘Hey—just for the hell of it—let’s ship some nuclear-tipped missiles to Cuba and point them at the United States. THAT will really shake ‘em up.’ “
Of course, this scenario was preposterous. Soviet intelligence knew that America had a significant advantage in nuclear triad delivery systems—bombers, land-based missiles, and submarine-launched weapons. The intelligence agencies of most other countries knew why the missiles were deployed, but Americans were kept in the dark for over 30 years. If the Soviets did not defend Cuba with its missiles, America would have invaded Cuba, and the Soviet Block would have been exposed to some degree as a paper tiger—not equivalent to the military of the United States.
The Missile Crisis actually turned out to be a good thing. The missiles deployed in Cuba prevented a terrible, bloody invasion of a country where just about everybody loved American citizens, but learned to distrust and fear the US government. (This has continued to be true to this day.) The Crisis also gave birth to the red-telephone direct hotline between Moscow and Washington. (Before this time, intergovernmental messages were Telexed to each other’s capitals, decoded, translated, and hand-delivered to the leaders.) Also—the Soviets realized that they needed to implement top-down control over those missiles. (During the Crisis, individual commanders had the authority to launch individual nuclear-tipped missiles on their own).
So with all this in mind—read and watch the news reports tomorrow about the release of secret documents. Odds are that the files will confirm that Oswald acted alone. But since we now live in such a chaotic world highlighted by Fake News and Alternative Facts, anything is possible! Perhaps the release of these documents was delayed 25 years because Fidel Castro was not expected so live so long. He conveniently died in November of 2016 at the age of 90.
This is an update on news stories from today about the US Embassy and acoustic phenomena in Cuba. This situation has been going on since late 2016. I have been following it closely. It is rather complicated, and the political situation makes things even more weird. It is nothing that I am worried about personally, but it has caused much unease among US travelers (but not very much from visitors from other countries, and with good reason).
These phenomena have only affected US and Canadian diplomats in the US Embassy and in one hotel. It is not a contagious illness. Remember–Canada is one of Cuba’s most loyal allies. The Cuban government has been working closely with our F.B.I. and the Canadian government trying to find out the cause. It apparently is not any type of “weapon,” but probably some type of listening device. My first thought when I heard about this several months ago was that it was probably of Russian origin. It fits their m.o. perfectly.
To sort things out involving Cuba, you have to figure out who benefits and who loses. Cuba has, and will have, a lot to lose. If Americans go to Cuba in fewer numbers, it would be a large economic hit. This is particularly important, because over half the major Caribbean areas visited by tourists have been seriously damaged or destroyed by hurricanes. Cuba’s damage was relatively minor, and power has been quickly restored over almost all of the island.
On the other hand, this issue benefits the Russians, who have begun very comprehensive international programs aimed at destabilizing certain countries and political entities. If you follow the news in the U.S., you’re probably aware that this has been an ongoing issue that representatives of both major parties are well aware of, even though some won’t admit it in public. (It is difficult for me to remain a middle-of-the-road Independent these days, but I’m still trying!)
The top diplomat at the US Embassy a few years back (when it was called the “US Interests Section) was Vicki Huddleston. Today she was asked about these occurrences. She said that there are several groups that may want to damage US-Cuba relations, and one is most likely behind these weird events. She identified likely groups as 1) Cuba Hardliners–those supporters of the late Fidel Castro, who do not trust the US government (Gee–I can’t imagine why!), 2) Miami Cuban-American Hardliners, who have been involved in dirty tricks against the Cuban government for decades. (Thankfully, most have died off, given up, or changed their minds about Cuba. Today, the remaining pro-Embargo Cuban-Americans represent a very small minority of those in south Florida, but you would not know it if you haven’t been paying close attention. Their younger “leaders” are Cuban-Americans like Senators Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, who were born outside of Cuba and have NEVER BEEN TO CUBA. Their supporters still envision returning to Cuba someday and claiming billions of dollars of real estate.)
Huddleston said the most likely culprits are #3 China or #4 Russia. I disagree that China would be involved, because it is now the major financial contributor for large economic projects in Cuba. They fully expect to profit from the large, nearby US tourist market visiting Cuba. On the other hand, Russian agents are the most likely suspects. They probably have the technology to do this, and their “fingerprints” are on a wide variety of other similar projects in multiple countries throughout the world.
At this point in history, the Cuban government would have absolutely nothing to gain by beginning and continuing these activities. But it is easy for Rubio and others to blame Cuba. if you study the last 50 years of US-Cuba relations, you will discover that the concepts of “Fake News” and “Alternate Facts” are nothing new.
The US government now states that the Cuba government is probably not responsible, but over half the existing diplomatic staff are being recalled from the embassy. Most significant–an official Travel Warning has been issued for Americans visiting that country. This will undoubtedly result in fewer American travelers.
It is extremely rare for anybody who has actually been to Cuba to believe that we should continue the embargo. I know only one person in this category. I also want to remind you that you will probably have friends and family members who will warn you about the so-called “dangers” of going to Cuba. Just remember that Canada–one of our very best allies–is also a close ally of Cuba. It is the favorite country for Canadians to visit, bringing their families and children to this kid-friendly country.
In conclusion, when you visit Cuba, you may meet visitors from all over the world, especially travelers from our best allies–UK, France, Italy, Germany, Australia, Japan, and of course, Canada. You should keep in mind that the history they learned regarding US-Cuba relations is vastly different than what we were told growing up here in the states.