CUBA BRIEF: Quebec man who tried to take relief supplies to Cuba “treated like a criminal.” Don’t rush to call Cuba ‘a safe destination.’ Regime sells mattresses to Hurricane Irma victims

CJAD 800 AM (Montreal, Quebec), October 2, 2017

Quebec man who tried to take relief supplies to Cuba “treated like a criminal” 

By Trudie Mason

Carl-Michel Cloutier treated like a criminal for trying to help Cubans

A Quebec man who simply wanted to help the people of Cuba in the wake of the devastation caused by Hurricane Irma says he’ll never go back, even though his wife is from there and they have strong ties to the island.  

Carl-Michel Cloutier and his family were so upset about the suffering post-storm that they gathered 19 suitcases of relief supplies:  clothing, canned food, toys and more.

He’d gotten a letter explaining his purpose from the Cuban consulate but when he arrived on the island, he was only able to take nine of the bags out of the airport, and then only after paying $125 in duty.

Cloutier tells La Presse he able to distribute the donations in his wife’s hometown but ended up being stopped by police, taken in for hours of questioning and had his camera and cellphone confiscated. He was later told he wouldn’t be able to leave the country and his wife’s relatives might be arrested if he tried to evade more questioning.

The situation was only sorted out the next day with the help of Canadian consular staff.

 Cloutier tells La Presse that he was treated like a criminal, and is advising other Quebecers who want to travel to Cuba to help with hurricane relief not to.


Sun Sentinel, October 4, 2017

Don’t rush to call Cuba ‘a safe destination’ | Letters

On Sept. 29, news organizations published the article “Travel industry sticking with trips to Cuba from U.S.” In the article Greg Geronemus, CEO of SmarTours says, “We continue to believe that Cuba is a safe destination for our travelers, and we will be running our tours until our assessment changes.”

The Cuba travel industry insists travel to Cuba is safe and dismisses the travel warning issued on Sept. 29 by the State Department that described how “numerous U.S. Embassy Havana employees have been targeted in specific attacks. These employees have suffered significant injuries as a consequence of these attacks.”

Press accounts report “mild traumatic brain injuries, hearing loss, severe headaches, cognitive disruption, and brain swelling.” Over the past 10 months they have not been able to identify the source of the attacks but did report that the attacks occurred both at “U.S. diplomatic residences and hotels frequented by U.S. citizens.” At least 21 Americans have been harmed.

The travel industry’s claim that “Cuba is a safe destination” should be placed in context. Earlier in September when Hurricane Irma, a deadly category five storm with 180 mile per hour winds was bearing down on Cuba and a hurricane watch issued, tourists were still being flown into the island by British and Canadian travel agencies.

The British travel agency “Thomas Cook has defended itself saying the company followed the Cuban government’s emergency instructions to the letter,” BBC News reported. Cayo Coco suffered the full impact of Hurricane Irma and was destroyed by the storm. They were flying tourists into Cuba to Cayo Coco a day prior to the storm’s arrival, as reported by The Independent(United Kingdom).

CBC News (Toronto) reported that Canadian tour operator Sunwing had elderly tourists flying into Cuba 24 hours before the deadly Category 5 storm, Hurricane Irma, smashed into Cuba , forcing them to flee for their lives. Hundreds of foreign tourists didn’t make it and were left stranded to face a hurricane that according to official Cuban government figures claimed ten lives and injured many more, but these travel agencies were just following regime orders.

Now this same travel industry tells tourists Cuba is safe and to ignore “targeted attacks” that took place at hotels frequented by tourists that can cause serious harm. This is an outrage.

John Suarez, coordinator, Free Cuba Foundation in Miami

14ymedio, October 4, 2017

Sale of Mattresses Begins for Hurricane Irma Victims in Havana

Distribution of mattresses and household products in Havana to the victims of Hurricane Irma. (14ymedio)

By 14ymedio

14ymedio, Havana, 4 October 2017 — This week the government began the sale of mattresses and household supplies for those affected by Hurricane Irma along Havana’s coastline. At least two points in the city, one for the municipality of Centro Habana and another for Plaza de la Revolución, offer the “module for victims” for a price close to 900 Cuban pesos (CUP).

At the El Castillito recreation center, near the Malecón, a package is sold including towels, sheets, an electric coffee maker, casseroles and an induction cooker at a price of 453 CUP. A double foam rubber mattress is also distributed for a cost of 454 CUP.

Prices, although much lower than in stores that sell in convertible pesos (CUC), are still inaccessible to retirees or those living only on their official salary, which in Cuba is about 740 CUP per month, according to the National Bureau of Statistics and Information (ONEI). continue reading

The basic products that are on sale for those affected are offered at a 50% price reduction, according to recent announcement in the official press. The merchandise that is sold in the capital comes mostly from the warehouses of the national currency (CUP) stores managed by the Ministry of Internal Commerce (MINCIN).

The mattresses lack branded labels or logos, but a vendor assured this newspaper that they have been manufactured by the Dujo Copo Flex joint venture, which has operated since 2001 on the island and allocates more than 50% of its production to the tourist industry.

This Wednesday dozens of people crowded into the ground floor of El Castillito to buy some products that are only sold to those who were previously placed on the registry of victims. “This list was prepared by social workers in the affected areas,” says a worker who distributes the goods.

“The affected people come here with their identity cards and we check that they are on the list. If they are, then they can buy the modules,” the employee says. “Many have come today to say they lost their mattresses but we are prohibited from selling anything to anyone who does not appear on this list,” she added.

Given the extent of the damage to the north coast of the capital, many residents in the area lost their appliances, some of their furniture or suffered serious damage to the structure of their homes. Across the country an estimated 158,554 homes were affected.

The powerful Hurricane Irma, which struck the Cuban north coast from September 7 to 10, left a toll of ten dead along with heavy damages in infrastructure and agriculture.

Carrying a mattress off the specially scheduled bus for hurricane victims. (14ymedio)

Among those in line at El Castillito the restlessness is great. “I hope I get in because I’ve been sleeping on the floor since the hurricane ruined my mattress,” says Roxana, a mother of two children and a resident in the vicinity of the Cohíba hotel. The woman says she “collected money” from several members of the family to buy the modules.

“The price is difficult to pay for people who have been left with nothing,” complains an elderly woman who also waits in line. The retiree believes that “this should be given away or given free to families with fewer resources,” because “many of the things coming into the country are donations.”

An employee monitoring the line rushes to correct the lady. “What is being sold here has nothing to do with donations,” he says. “These products were already in Cuba before Irma happened or they are assembled here like the induction cookers.”

The manager of the Alba store on Infanta Street confirms this version by telephone. “Right now we do not have mattresses available because they have taken them all to sell to the victims,” e explains via telephone to this newspaper.

The Government has scheduled buses to leave from some points in the area to take the victims to El Castillito and later bring them to their homes with the purchased modules.

However, some lament that the route is not flexible enough and in many cases leaves them far from their homes.

Cuba has received donations and humanitarian aid sent by governments, friendship associations, companies, non-governmental organizations, universities, and religious institutions, according to a statement released last Friday by the National Defense Council.

Venezuela, the Dominican Republic, Japan, Spain, Suriname, China, Bolivia, Colombia and a number of United Nations agencies have sent material aid, mainly food, construction materials and hygiene, as well as cash.