CubaBrief: Biden’s revised Cuba policy creates more options for US travelers. What about Cubans and Venezuelans harmed by more resources given to the military?

Fruits of engagement with dictatorships. American Airlines helps Havana deny Cuban national her rights

The Washington Post headline reads “Biden’s revised Cuba policy creates more options for U.S. travelers”, but left unsaid in the headline is the plight of Cuban travelers.

The prior policy objective did not prevent Cubans returning to Cuba, but required them making connecting flights in the island, or traveling by bus or car into the provinces. It did seek to limit the number of Americans providing hard currency to the Cuban military that runs tourism in Cuba through its conglomerate GAESA, and its sub-entity Gaviota.

Critics of the prior policy claimed that it divided Cuban families, but most remained silent to the Castro regime policies that actually divide families, and deny Cuban nationals their right to return home.

On February 16, 2022, Anamely Ramos González, with her documents in order and plane ticket in hand, was told by a representative of American Airlines she could not board the flight home on instructions from the Cuban government. Anamely Ramos is an artist and nonviolent Cuban dissident who resides in Cuba.

Worse yet, American airline companies are complicit in this practice.

Ken Kurson in his February 19, 2022 article in Fine Art Global, titled “Cuban Curator Anamely Ramos Gonzalez Stranded in Miami: American Airlines Caves to Authoritarian Communist Regime” reported on how the 37-year old artist, and others are blocked from returning home to Cuba.

According to the Herald, “The Cuban government has frequently denied entry to opponents and activists, but usually after they’ve already arrived on the island.” But as Ramos herself said at a press conference hastily arranged at Miami International Airport after she was denied access, “Cuba’s border cannot be at the Miami airport. It cannot be at American Airlines’ gate. If the Cuban government doesn’t want to let me in for some reason, they have to solve it with me in Cuba.”

It was American Airlines that did not allow the Cuban artist to board the plane on orders of the Cuban dictatorship, and in violation of Article 13, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the right to return to your country. It used to be that travelers would be turned around upon landing in Cuba by the dictatorship, now they have the assistance of airline companies. This is change, but in the wrong direction of what was promised.

The objective, in suspending public charter flights to nine regional Cuban airports, further impeded the Castro regime from gaining access to hard currency from U.S. travelers that it will now use to finance ongoing repression in Cuba, to support the Maduro dictatorship in Venezuela, and terrorism in the region.

It was an inconvenience, to be sure, but considering that the hard currency generated will be used by the military and the secret police, as it was during the Obama Administration, to repress Cubans and prop up the Maduro regime in Venezuela, that caused millions to flee and murdered thousands of Venezuelans to maintain power.

There is an effort underway by the Pro-Castro lobby to portray the Castro regime as a “normal” country like Costa Rica or Jamaica, but the reality is that Cuba, together with Venezuela and Nicaragua, back Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, host Russian soldiers and mercenaries on their territory and actively seek to subvert neighboring democracies.

Lastly, the Cuban government denies many Cubans their right to leave and their right to return, dividing families. One must not confuse the Cuban dictatorship with the Cuban people it oppresses. To ignore this, and legitimize this dictatorship that represses Cubans is to be complicit.

The Washington Post, June 2, 2022

Biden’s revised Cuba policy creates more options for U.S. travelers

The United States just approved flights to airports beyond Havana and will restore the group tours banned under Trump

By Hannah Sampson

Americans who want to travel legally to Cuba will have more options after the Biden administration announced it was undoing some of the restrictions President Donald Trump imposed before the pandemic.

Under an order issued Wednesday by the U.S. Transportation Department, airlines will again be allowed to fly to Cuban destinations beyond Havana, an avenue that was cut off in late 2019. Public charter flights will also be permitted to go to airports outside Havana after being suspended in early 2020.

The Transportation Department issued the order rescinding the Trump-era restrictions after a request this week from Secretary of State Antony Blinken. He wrote that scheduled and charter air services could resume “effective immediately” once the department took action.

That formal request followed a May 16 announcement that the Biden administration was taking measures, including allowing the additional flights, to “increase support for the Cuban people in line with our national security interests.”

As Biden eases Trump’s sanctions, Cubans hope for an economic lift

Peggy Goldman, president and co-owner of two travel companies that bring visitors to Cuba — Friendly Planet and Insight Cuba — called the permission to add flights “wonderful news.”

“It makes it possible to enjoy much more of the island, and having these additional flights is a hallelujah moment for us,” she said. She added that her companies have been “badgering” airlines on a daily basis about increasing service.

U.S. carriers that offer scheduled flights to Havana, including American Airlines, JetBlue and Southwest, told The Washington Post this week — before the DOT’s order — that they did not have any additional services to announce. American Airlines flew to five destinations in addition to Havana until December 2019, and JetBlue once flew to three cities beyond the capital city.

“While we do not have any news to share at this time regarding changes to our operations in Cuba, we regularly evaluate new opportunities throughout our network,” JetBlue said in a statement.

Cuba reopened to visitors in November after closing its borders earlier in the pandemic.

Can Americans travel to Cuba? Yes, but it’s complicated.

U.S. officials have said that a popular authorized way for groups of travelers to visit Cuba — called “people-to-people” trips — will be back at some point. The Trump administration eliminated the option in mid-2019. The State Department said it would reinstate the option, along with other categories of group educational travel and some additional travel connected to professional meetings and research.

“We’ll certainly ensure travel is purposeful and in accordance with U.S. law. And we’ll note something that President Biden had said often, which is his belief that Americans are the best ambassadors for democratic values,” a senior administration official said during a press call last month. “And facilitating group people-to-people travel will allow for greater engagement between the American people and the promotion of their democratic values.”

The State Department did not release a timeline for reopening that category of travel, but it said in a statement that the administration is “working expeditiously to implement these changes, via regulatory amendments and other steps on an expedited basis.”

Americans have been allowed to visit the island under categories that remain legal, including family visits, religious activities, competitions, educational activities and professional research and meetings. After the Trump administration eliminated the “people to people” option, first for individuals and then for groups, most travelers opted to visit under the “support for the Cuban people” category.

Under that option, travelers need to have a full-time schedule of activities that enhance contact with locals, support civil society in Cuba, result in meaningful interaction with residents or promote independence from Cuban authorities, The Washington Post reported in 2019.

The two categories were similar, but supporting the Cuban people required more direct aid to locals on the ground. Some tour operators told The Post when the changes were first announced that they were skipping attractions such as Ernest Hemingway’s house and famous cemeteries. To keep their programming in compliance, they said, they would meet with craftspeople who make humidors instead of going to cigar factories, and they would visit artists in a studio cooperative instead of going to a museum.

Fine Art Global, February 19, 2022

Cuban Curator Anamely Ramos Gonzalez Stranded in Miami

American Airlines Caves to Authoritarian Communist Regime

By Ken Kurson

Cuban art professor and curator Anamely Ramos Gonzalez, in Miami’s Little Havana after being turned away by American Airlines from a flight to her homeland, Feb 18, 2022. (Photo: Chaya Kurson)

MIAMI—Unconscionable actions taken by American Airlines on Wednesday, Feb. 16, have sent shockwaves first through the Cuban art world, and then through the entire Cuban ex-pat community in this Cuban-led city. And now, as one brave woman who was denied re-entrance to her own home country leads the charge, those reverberations are starting to be felt by all freedom loving people.

Respected art curator Anamely Ramos Gonzalez, 37, is a prominent member of the San Isidro Movement, a collective of artists, journalists and other intelligentsia that gathered in 2018 to oppose Cuba’s crackdown on freedom of expression. On Wednesday, Ramos was denied access to an American Airlines flight in Miami, apparently at the request of the Cuban government. The Miami Herald reported that the island nation’s bureaucrats had blocked her entry into the country. According to the Herald, “The Cuban government has frequently denied entry to opponents and activists, but usually after they’ve already arrived on the island.”

But as Ramos herself said at a press conference hastily arranged at Miami International Airport after she was denied access, “Cuba’s border cannot be at the Miami airport. It cannot be at American Airlines’ gate. If the Cuban government doesn’t want to let me in for some reason, they have to solve it with me in Cuba.”

Now, Ramos is leading protests in Miami’s Little Havana community. On Friday, she sat on a corner of Calle Ocho, directly across from Versailles restaurant in the beating heart of Miami’s Cuban community. As cars drove by, many honked their horns in solidarity, including a few with ‘Let’s Go Brandon’ bumper stickers.

In a face-to-face interview with the Fine Art Globe, Ramos explained why she is willing to challenge an autocratic government so publicly.

“Normal people have been more in touch with us, in solidarity. They are indignant about American Airlines’ decision not to take me to Cuba. This has happened many times in the past to a lot of people who live here, but this is a special case because I have a valid residence in Cuba.”

Ramos has been a professor at Universidad de las Artes de Cuba for 12 years, where she’s established a reputation as an edgy and innovative curator. She also spent two years teaching art in Angola.

According to Ramos, the plan on Friday was to spend the day protesting outside Versailles, which attracts Miami Cubanos as well as tons of tourists all day long and was packed at lunch hour on Friday. For the afternoon rush hour, the protestors planned to march to Ponce De Leon Boulevard in Coral Gables to protest directly in front of the American Airlines Building.