CubaBrief: Death toll rises to 43 after an explosion at military owned Hotel Saratoga in Cuba. AMLO’s shameful trip to Cuba.

Hotel Saratoga following the explosion on May 6, 2022

The death toll from the May 6, 2022 Hotel Saratoga explosion today stands at 43, which according to official reports was due to a gas leak, has put a spotlight on the Cuban military’s role in the tourism industry. It is the military-owned Gaviota tourism company that operates the Saratoga. The Saratoga opened in 1890, and like much of the rest of commercial property in Cuba was seized by the Castro regime, and taken over by the military.

Tourism development projects in Havana and other choice locations are almost exclusively in Gaviota’s hands.

Hotel Saratoga prior to the gas explosion (Twitter: @SaratogaHavana)

Gaviota is part of the Armed Forces Business Enterprises Group (GAESA), a conglomerate involved in all sectors of the economy that is headed up by General Luis Alberto Rodríguez López-Calleja ,formerly President Raul Castro’s son-in-law, and father to two of Castro’s grandchildren.

For example, all the state hotels, stores and eateries in colonial Old Havana are owned by Habaguanex, which was taken over from the city historian’s office by GAESA in 2016. All the tourists visiting these establishments are enriching the Cuban military.

Mezzanine Bar at the Hotel Saratoga in 2019 (Twitter @SaratogaHavana)

The Canadian Broadcasting Company (CBC) in the August 2, 2021 article “How Canadian tourism sustains Cuba’s army and one-party state” described how Cuban workers are exploited, and the justifications made by officials.

“Workers are provided through an employment agency also controlled by GAESA/Gaviota. If a foreign company pays Gaviota $750 a month for the average base-salary worker, the worker would typically receive less than 10 percent of that amount in salary. The rest goes to the Cuban military. Cuban hotel workers take home only a tiny fraction of what their counterparts in Cancun or the Dominican Republic earn for similar work. Guest workers from India working on one hotel were paid ten times more than their Cuban peers.

Communist Party organs defended the pay difference by claiming that the productivity of Indian workers was “three or four times better” than the average Cuban’s.”

This is something to take into consideration when considering  the plight of the hotel employees killed in the Hotel Saratoga, and their families that have survived them.

The Cuban communist regime has decided to make tourism its main source of income. According to the same CBC article cited above.

Cuba’s current development plan foresees the construction of over 100,000 new hotel rooms by 2030, along with 24 new golf courses.”At the heart of the growth plan are GAESA and other companies owned by the armed forces. GAESA will spend over $15 billion on 121 hotel projects, twice as much as is expected to come from foreign investors and Cuba’s civilian government combined.”

This construction is controversial among Cubans because residential buildings across the island are crumbling and not subject to upkeep because supplies are prioritized for the new hotels, and their collapse is a regular occurrence, and Cubans have been killed.

This dystopian nightmare is what President López Obrador celebrates during his visit to Cuba.

Crumbling buildings in Havana

Mexican journalist Jorge Ramos in a May 9, 2022 OpEd quotes a 2017 interview he conducted with López Obrador the Mexican president refused to describe Raul Castro as a dictator.

(Before Díaz-Canel was appointed as first secretary of the Cuban Communist Party) I asked López Obrador if Raúl Castro could be called a dictator. “I would not call anyone that,” he told me. I insisted. “It’s been a dictatorship since 1959,” I told him. Raúl Castro was hand-picked by Fidel in 2008. “You complained about hand-picking (presidential successors) in Mexico. Why don’t you complain about hand-picking in Cuba?” This was his answer: “Such phobias. Such phobias … You are in your role as journalist. You have the right to ask me all those things. And I have the right not to get hung up on those things … I am not going there. I am respectful.”

There are well grounded concerns that President López Obrador would like to follow the path of Hugo Chavez in Mexico. His admiration and support of the Castro dictatorship should terrify Mexicans.

AMLO meets with Raul Castro in Havana during his current May 2022 visit to Cuba.

Associated Press, May 10, 2022

Latin America

The death toll rises to 43 after an explosion at a hotel in Cuba

Updated May 10, 20229:14 PM ET

A rescue worker walks away from the destroyed five-star Hotel Saratoga on Tuesday after searching through the rubble days after a deadly explosion in Old Havana, Cuba. Ramon Espinosa/

HAVANA — The elegant Hotel Saratoga was supposed to reopen in Havana on Tuesday after a two-year pandemic break. Instead, it was a day of mourning for the 43 people known to have died in an explosion that ripped the building apart.

Emergency workers continued to hunt through the ruins for other victims as experts began to consider the fate of the 19th century building, a former warehouse that had been converted into a hotel early in the last century.

Roberto Enriquez, a spokesman for the military-owned Gaviota tourism company that operates the Saratoga, said experts’ initial estimates are that 80% of the hotel was damaged by Friday’s explosion, which hurled tons of concrete chunks into the busy streets just a block from the country’s Capitol and seriously harmed neighboring structures.

He said that when rescue efforts finish, authorities would look more deeply into what to do with the structure.

Officials reported Tuesday evening that a 43rd body had been found, but it was not immediately known if the latest victim worked at the hotel.

Enriques said earlier in the day that 51 people were working to get the hotel ready for its re-inauguration, and 23 of them were among the confirmed dead — executives and maids, cooks and reception desk workers, security personnel and technicians. He said three workers remained missing, believed to be buried under the debris.

Authorities have said they suspect the cause was a leak of gas as a tank truck was servicing the building.

The Ministry of Health said Tuesday evening that the overall death toll had risen to 43, including at least one Spanish tourist. Seventeen people remained hospitalized.

The head of the Communist Party for Havana, Luis Antonio Torres Iríbar, said that 38 homes had been affected by the explosion and 95 people had to be relocated, according to the official Cubadebate website.

He said one of the neighboring buildings would have to be demolished.

https://www.npr.org/2022/05/10/1098011546/cuba-hotel-explosion


Mexico News Daily, May 9, 2022

AMLO gets a warm welcome in Cuba, calls for renewal of its revolution

He received the nation’s highest honor and discussed buying Cuban COVID vaccines

Published on Monday, May 9, 2022

President López showing his support for Cuba and Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel, left, at a ceremony on Sunday in Havana. López Obrador website

President López Obrador received Cuba’s highest state honor during a visit to the island nation on Sunday.

Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel, who was the guest of honor at Mexico’s Independence Day celebrations last September, presented the Order of José Martí to his counterpart at an event in Havana.

Named after the 19th-century independence hero and poet, the honor was bestowed upon López Obrador for advocating the economic integration of American states, strengthening regional unity and defending just causes, peace and cooperation between nations.

Among the other heads of state who have received Cuba’s highest honor are Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro and his deceased predecessor Hugo Chávez, Russian President Vladimir Putin, former Iraq president Saddam Hussein, former Chilean president Salvador Allende and former South African president Nelson Mandela, who received the order before he assumed the presidency.

In Havana, after a whirlwind tour of Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras and Belize, López Obrador also attended a ceremony at the Plaza de la Revolución (Revolution Square), where former Cuban president Fidel Castro delivered countless lengthy speeches during his almost 50-year rule.

At the square – backed by buildings adorned by large images of Cuba’s revolutionary heroes Ernesto “Che” Guevara and Camilo Cienfuegos – the Mexican president laid a wreath to honor Martí, who was killed in an 1895 battle with Spanish troops.

After being conferred with the honor at the nearby Palace of the Revolution, López Obrador – well-known for his indefatigable oratory – delivered a nearly hour-long speech, during which he reiterated his rejection of the United States’ trade embargo on Cuba and pledged to never bet on the failure of the Cuban revolution, which celebrated its 60th anniversary in 2019.

Only 100 kilometers from the superpower that is the United States, there is an independent island inhabited by “modest and humble yet happy, creative and … very dignified people,” he said.

“… Personally, I have never bet on … nor will I ever bet on the failure of the Cuban revolution, its legacy of justice and its lessons of independence and dignity,” López Obrador said.

“I will never participate with coup plotters who conspire against the ideals of equality and universal fraternity,” the president told those present, including Díaz-Canel, who stood at his side while he delivered his speech.

However, AMLO did advocate for renewal of the political system in Cuba, which has been a one-party communist state for over six decades.

He said he had hoped “that the revolution is capable of renewing itself in order to follow the example of the martyrs who fought for freedom, equality, justice and sovereignty.”

López Obrador, who claims his administration is carrying out a “fourth transformation” of Mexico, added that he had faith that the Cuban government was ruling the country with that objective in mind.

“That the new revolution is being carried out within the revolution is Cuba’s second great … lesson to the world. The [Cuban] people will once again demonstrate that reason is more powerful than force,” he said.

López Obrador reiterated his advocacy for the establishment of an economic bloc in the region in which each country’s sovereignty and political system is respected.

He said he would emphasize to United States President Joe Biden that no country should be excluded from the Summit of the Americas, which will be held in Los Angeles next month.

The U.S. government has indicated that Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua are unlikely to be invited, but López Obrador proclaimed that “nobody should exclude anyone.”

In much briefer remarks after the Mexican president’s address, Díaz-Canel thanked his counterpart for his support and “firm position” against the United States’ blockade.

“We’ve addressed important issues on our bilateral agenda but also dealt with regional issues,” he said, referring to meetings between Cuban and Mexican officials during López Obrador’s 27-hour visit.

“… As President López Obrador has said, the relations in the [western] hemisphere must change profoundly. The Cuban revolution … will continue its triumphant march … and Mexico will always be able to count on Cuba,” added Díaz-Canel, who succeeded Raúl Castro as president in 2018.

Back in Mexico City on Monday, AMLO revealed that more than 500 Cuban doctors would come to work in Mexico and that the government would purchase COVID-19 vaccines from Cuba.

“We are … going to hire doctors from Cuba who are going to come to work in our country; we made this decision because we do not have the doctors we need,” he told reporters at his regular news conference.

COVID-19 vaccines from Cuba will be used to inoculate children as young as two, López Obrador said, adding that the communist island nation, which has developed its own anti-COVID shots, has achieved “great results” from its vaccination program.

With reports from El Universal, Reforma and Reuters

https://mexiconewsdaily.com/news/amlo-gets-welcomed-cuba/

Univision, May 9, 2022

AMLO and his dangerous sympathy for the Cuban dictatorship

Mexican president Andrés Manuel López Obrador has repeatedly said he will not seek reelection and will leave office in 2024. That is, he will not follow the Cuban model. But his admiration for and defense of a regime that represses, jails and kills its opponents is very worrisome. It is difficult to understand how López Obrador wants democracy for Mexicans but not for Cubans.

OpiniónJorge RamosJorge Ramos is the award-winning co-anchor of Univision’s evening news and host of Al Punto and Real America.

“López Obrador has decided to be “respectful” with one of the longest dictatorships that have most repressed individual rights in the history of the American continent.” Credit: YAMIL LAGE/AFP via Getty Images

Tell me your heroes, and I will tell you who you are

The president of Mexico, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, has never hidden his dangerous sympathy for the Cuban dictatorship. Far from it, he defends it at every turn. His visit to Havana last weekend – and the two visits Cuban dictator Miguel Díaz-Canel made recently to Mexico – are evidence of the close, odd and worrying relationship between a democratically elected president and the tyrant on the island.

López Obrador’s generation – he was born in 1953 – grew up amid the enthusiasm and enormous influence of the Cuban revolution on Latin America. When he was a teenager, Fidel Castro had already imposed himself as the lone leader of an increasingly authoritarian and repressive regime. But because the Cuban rebels had toppled the brutal dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista, the idea of a similar revolution in Mexico remained attractive and had support. Until the year 2000, Mexico lived 71 years of authoritarian rule and one-party dictatorship.

Yet many – Mario Vargas Llosa, Octavio Paz and Carlos Fuentes, just to name a few – quickly became disenchanted with the Cuban revolution and its abuses. Not AMLO. Today, together with Venezuela and Nicaragua, Cuba is one one of the most repressive dictatorships on the continent. In 63 years in power, it has seen only three rulers: Fidel and Raul Castro and Díaz-Canel. There is no hint of democracy on the island, where political parties are banned. There’s no free press, and anti-government protesters are punished with lengthy prison terms.. Hundreds of artists and dissidents who joined street protests last summer to the sound of the song Patria y Vida remain jailed. And the song, incredibly, remains banned on the island. That is the level of repression.

Cuba is a dictatorship.
Cuba is a dictatorship.
Cuba is a dictatorship.

But no matter how many times we say that, López Obrador continues to defend it. And to admire it.

In a 2017 interview, López Obrador told me that “Jesus and Ernesto Ché Guevara, that’s who I admire. Ché is, I believe, an exemplary revolutionary.” I interrupted him immediately and told him Ché also had “carried out many executions.” He responded that Ché “does face that criticism, but was a man who gave his life for his ideals, for what he believed

One thing is to admire the Cuban revolution when you’re young, in the 1960s or 70s, and a very different other is to continue to do so in the 21 st Century, when there’s solid documentation of its human rights violations, its torture and executions of opponents and total absence of democracy. But that is precisely the regime AMLO refuses to criticize.

In that same interview (before Díaz-Canel was appointed as first secretary of the Cuban Communist Party) I asked López Obrador if Raúl Castro could be called a dictator. “I would not call anyone that,” he told me. I insisted. “It’s been a dictatorship since 1959,” I told him. Raúl Castro was hand-picked by Fidel in 2008. “You complained about hand-picking (presidential successors) in Mexico. Why don’t you complain about hand-picking in Cuba?”

This was his answer: “Such phobias. Such phobias … You are in your role as journalist. You have the right to ask me all those things. And I have the right not to get hung up on those things … I am not going there. I am respectful.”

López Obrador has decided to be “respectful” of one the oldest dictatorships, and one that has most repressed the rights of individuals, in this history of the Americas. He frequently says he supports the policy of “no intervention” in the domestic issues of other countries. But the defense of human rights always tops sovereignty. If not, we would never be able to criticize murders and tortures in other countries. It is difficult to understand how López Obrador wants democracy for Mexicans but not for Cubans.

AMLO has repeatedly said he will not seek reelection and will leave office in 2024. That is, he will not follow the Cuban model. But his admiration for and defense of a regime that represses, jails and kills its opponents is very worrisome.

Cuba and its communist system is not, and cannot be, an example for Mexico (or any other country). On the contrary, it is precisely the model we should never copy. But one member of López Obrador’s government issued a very public defense of communism in 2019. “We should aim for communism, as a society divorced from all exploitation of the human being and the destruction of nature,” said Luciano Concheiro, deputy minister of higher education.

Of course I don’t agree, and we must draw a line. Less freedom, less democracy, more repression and more government control is not the path for Mexico. Cuba cannot be a point of reference for Mexico. I can think of a lot of other countries, but not the communist island.

During more than 30 years living in Miami, I have come to know thousands of the victims of the Cuban dictatorship. They have lost their country, homes, families, friends and even their lives. And I have learned that you cannot be neutral in the face of tyranny. You have to take a side.

Unfortunately, {President López Obrador has taken the side of the dictatorship and the wrong side of history. The right side is the side of freedom, democracy, justice and human rights. To visit Cuba and defend the regime in Havana at a time when hundreds of political prisoners are jailed and there’s no possibility of multi-party elections is a betrayal to the defense of human rights and democracy.

You can pick our heroes. But it’s a tragedy when those heroes of your youth lead you to the same side as killers, repressors and torturers.

https://www.univision.com/univision-news/opinion/oped-jorge-ramos-amlo-cuban-dictatorship