CubaBrief: It is up to PM Trudeau to get Canadian back. Thanks for Asking, but No, I will Not be Traveling to Cuba.


Heberto Padilla

Protect yourself from those who vacillate,

Because one day they will know what they don’t want.

Protect yourself from those who mumble,

Juan-the-stutterer, -Pedro-the-mute,

Because one day they shall find their strong voice.

Protect yourself from the timid and the frightened,

Because one day they will not rise when you enter.

Translated in 1973 by Cuban students at Georgetown University 

This CUBABrief highlights three stories focusing on issues familiar to most Cuba watchers: the finger-pointing about who is to blame for the deaths caused by the recent aircraft disaster (this time Havana did not blame the CIA); a foreigner, in this case a Canadian, who discovers Havana’s disregard for the rule of law and his government’s inability to protect  him; and Cuban-Americans who have learned from their loved ones about misery and repression on the island.  And a poem by Heberto Padilla, one of Cuba’s most important poets, who was forced by Fidel Castro’s secret police to confess to ingratitude and serious errors against the regime, while his prohibited poems circulated among university students. The Stalinist methods used against him were condemned by Jean Paul Sartre, Susan Sontag, Mario Vargas Llosa, Simone De Beauvoir and other foreign  intellectuals, while Cuban writers cowered in fear. Fidel Castro denounced Sartre and the others as tools of the CIA and pledged they would never again be allowed to enter Cuba – a chapter of Cuban history that foreign leaders, as important as Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, have never heard about.  

When dealing with political cases, the Cuban court system is notorious for its disregard of basic standards of judicial procedure; Cuban defense lawyers often do little more than tell the judge the defendant is a loyal revolutionary, totally committed to the building of a Communist society.

From time to time, however, Cuban courts show the same level of arbitrariness when dealing with defendants who have not challenged the regime’s orthodoxy. Take the case of Toufik Benhamiche, a Canadian tourist who, in July of 2017, lost control of a boat resulting in the death of a woman from Ontario. He was “convicted of criminal negligence causing death, and was sentenced to four years in prison.”  The fact that Cuba’s highest court made the rare decision to overturn the verdict, due to errors in the courts proceedings, has yet to convince the authorities to allow him to return home.  Canada’s charismatic Prime Minister Trudeau, who was not reticent about his admiration for Fidel Castro, certainly could persuade General Raul Castro to let him go.

Also in this issue, a young Cuban American woman listens to her grandmother and decides not to travel to Cuba until there is real change on the island.


‘They’re not letting him leave’:

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Canadian man stuck in Cuba despite overturned conviction

Mascouche man still detained in Cuba

Touffik Bensaadi was charged with criminal negligence in Cuba last year. The ruling was overturned, but he still can’t leave. Staff
Published Friday, July 13, 2018 9:07AM EDT 

A Quebec man has been stuck in Cuba for more than year as he awaits the local prosecution’s decision on how to proceed with his case involving a boating accident in which a woman died.

While on a tourist excursion during a family trip to Cuba in July 2017, Toufik Benhamiche lost control of the boat and ended up fatally colliding with a woman from Ontario. He was later convicted of criminal negligence causing death and sentenced to four years in prison. The conviction, however, was later overturned when Cuba’s highest court found errors in how the lower court handled the case.

“As I now perceive it, probably that boat was by itself too powerful,” Julius Grey, the family’s lawyer, told CTV Montreal. “It would take a trained pilot which (the boating company) didn’t require.”

Benhamiche, from the Montreal suburb of Mascouche, Que., is no longer in prison, but isn’t allowed to leave Cuba until local prosecutors decide how they want to proceed with the case.

“They’re just not letting him leave,” Grey said. “He is just there aimlessly. He can’t work. He doesn’t have his family.”

Benhamiche’s family is pleading with the Canadian government to help bring the father of two back to Canada.

In a statement, Global Affairs Canada said they have consular officials in Havana working with “local authorities to gather further information on the status of (Benhamiche’s) case,” but could not offer any further information. In the meantime, Benhamiche’s wife Kahina Bensaadi says her family is desperate to have him back home.

With a report from CTV Montreal’s Matt Grillo


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Thanks For Asking, but No, I Will Not Be Traveling to Cuba

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 July 13, 2018 by CHARISANDRA PEREZ

The questions started two or three years ago, when news broke that relations would begin to open with Cuba after more than 50 years of extreme sanctions against the communist government. “So, when are you going to go to Cuba? You know, now that you can.” People were shocked to hear I had yet to book a ticket. My family, staunchly against it, made their feelings very clear. I, on the other hand, felt conflicted. After all, I tell everyone that I am Cuban, and I truly feel like I am. Yet I have never set foot in the place I identify so strongly with.

One day, I sat down with my grandmother, who came to America in 1962 as a refugee, and asked her why she forbade her children (all of whom were born in the states) and grandchildren from going to her home country, despite having said she wants to be buried there when she dies. The answer shook me. She said she would allow us to travel there when Cubans are allowed to travel freely to the United States.

You see, the softening of relations was a one-way street, which gave American citizens access to a curated experience of Cuban life. The vintage cars, the colorful architecture, the sparkling ocean views — all of it shying away from the harsh realities that people living in the dilapidated buildings knew to be true.

All of my family on my mother’s side lives in the states; my paternal grandparents, however, travel to Cuba frequently to visit family I’ve never met. For this reason, I understand why they would welcome the change, making it easier for them to enter the island despite essentially risking their American citizenship the moment they step onto Cuban soil. My quandary deepens with those top-of-the-line cruises departing every weekend from Fort Lauderdale. The photos and stories people return with — of tropical greenery and an infectious spirit — just don’t match up with the memories shared by family who has recently arrived.

It is advertised as a hidden paradise, but I can only think of the lost land where even hospitals aren’t provided with basic sanitary means. Unfortunately, my tourism dollars will not raise the standard of living (as perhaps in other popular Caribbean vacation destinations) due to the centralized government. While the Cuban people do not want my pity and make the best of their situation, I will not fund the government who put them in that situation in the first place.

When I am met with shock that I do not want to visit Cuba, I give the same answer every time: I’ve seen what Cuba has to offer in Miami, where all the exiles rebuilt the beautiful culture that once lived on the island. I feel connected to mi gente through Saturdays spent in Domino Park with my grandfather, having a pastelito and cafecito after church at Versailles Bakery, and wearing the official garment of the Cuban people: the guayabera. Companies that were founded in Havana are now headquartered in Miami, such as the greatest beverage known to man, Ironbeer. The language, its slang, and its culture has evolved in Miami. The South Florida town was co-opted by an exiled community who found each other and built a city for their children and grandchildren where Cuban culture would never die. My grandparents sacrificed so much for my freedom, so I will honor them by keeping my promise and holding my breath until Cubans can breathe easy once again.


BBC News:

Cuba plane crash: Leasing company blames Mexican crew

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17 July, 2018

The plane came down shortly after take-off from Havana

A plane crash in Cuba which killed 112 people was caused by “human error”, the Mexican charter company which owns the plane says.

Damojh Airlines said a study of the data recorders showed the Boeing 737 had taken off too steeply.

Mexican pilots’ union ASPA said Damojh’s statement, which was released before the official investigation has concluded, was “irresponsible”. The crash was one of the worst to happen in the Caribbean for decades.

The Boeing 737 and its Mexican crew had been leased from Damojh by Cuban state airline Cubana when it came down 20km (12 miles) south of the Cuban capital, Havana.

Eyewitnesses described seeing the jet burst into flames before crashing into a field close to a wooded area near Havana’s main airport.

Doctor Jose Luis Castellano described the crash site as “very painful” to behold.

Damojh said in a statement that “the crew took off at a very steep angle creating a lack of lift which caused the aircraft to plunge”.

The company said it was basing its assessment on data from the plane’s data recorders which had been extracted by a team made up of investigators from Cuba, Mexico and the US, and representatives from Boeing and engine manufacturers Pratt & Whitney.

‘Defending their interests’

However, the results of the investigation have yet to be released, Mexico’s civil aviation authority said.

The crash was one of the deadliest in Cuba in three decades

A spokesman for the Mexican pilots’ union said Damojh was “just looking to defend their interests” by blaming the crew before the investigation had been concluded. Following the accident on 18 May, two former pilots for the company came forward to allege that Damojh had a poor maintenance record.

Damojh company ‘had safety complaints’

Mexico’s civil aviation authority suspended the company’s operations in the wake of the accident. It said the suspension would remain in place pending the outcome of the investigation. Most of the victims were Cuban, including 10 evangelical pastors and their spouses. Of the 113 people on board, 110 died on impact. Of the three initial survivors, two later died in hospital.

Miraculous plane crash survivors

Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel has set up a special commission to investigate the crash.