Shirley Lykes Ship Reunion

Some time ago, I posted a number of posts with photographs of Cuban people being taken to the United States on a ship named Shirley Lykes.  Links to the prior posts appear here.  The United States had delivered a great amount of supplies on the ship in exchange for Bay of Pigs invasion prisoners, and their families. 

I also had found and posted at the time a link to an official video of this event:

A couple of months ago, one year after posting the photos, I was contacted by a passenger on the ship.  She said, “I was 18 years old and traveling by myself when I got on the Shirley Lykes. My memory is that few hours after I have boarded the ship a Red Cross representative came to our compartment to announce that the government had given permission to leave to more passengers that originally agreed to, and he wanted a vote from us.  Should they allow them to get on the ship or should they tell them to go home and wait for the next ship?  The vote was unanimous: "Let them board until the ship begins to sink".  Consequently, since they only had provisions for 1,170  people, there were only that many cots and we ended up 4 to a cot.  Of course we sat all night.  I wish someone else that was there will collaborate with my story.  I remember the number being 4,000 (maybe because we were 4 on each cot).”

She said that she wished she could thank the Red Cross workers and maybe communicate with other passengers.  I said, would you like to meet the Chief Mate who worked on the ship during that trip -- the same man who delivered a video from which I obtained the photos.  She said she would. 
Recently, they met.  It was a beautiful evening.  He brought three photo books with very clear photos of the event, much clearer than the old video.   Here they are:

Immediately after they left, I checked my e-mail and found an email from a man who was a young boy on the trip.  I sent him a copy of the video and put the two passengers in touch with each other.  If any other passengers want to communicate, write to and I will put you in touch.

AP Report - Cuba Denounces U.S. Diplomats

The Associated Press reported earlier this month that Cuba has denounced U.S. Diplomats, because the American Interest Section "continues to serve as a general headquarters for the subversive policies of the North American government.’’

The U.S. is not allowed to have an Embassy in Cuba, just like Cuba is not allowed to have an Embassy in the U.S.  Instead they each have an "Interest Section".  Cuba's is in Washington, DC.  That is where one must apply for a visa, entry permit, etc.

The American Interest Section is in Havana, north of town, in the Vedado area, on the Malec
Interestingly, some years ago, Cuba constructed a number of distracting structures in front of the American Interest Section, in order to obscure it, post pro-Cuban government propaganda, etc.  Also, there is a statue of Martí nearby, holding a young child.  Martí  is pointing in the direction of the American Interest Section. A Cuban has told me the concept is that the pointing is taunting, or denouncing the U.S.

According to the writer, the U.S. admits that it communicates with Cubans in certain ways, which is the reason the Cuban government objects. The article says,

"U.S. officials have long maintained that they are doing nothing illegal in Cuba and that supporting free speech, cultural activities and Internet access is a common practice at missions around the world.
"We are absolutely guilty of those charges. The U.S. Interests Section in Havana does regularly offer free courses in using the Internet to Cubans who want to sign up. We also have computers available for Cubans to use," State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters in Washington. "Obviously this wouldn't be necessary if the Cuban government didn't restrict access to the Internet and prevent its own citizens from getting technology training.""

Here are links to other versions of the story:

What Hurricane Sandy Did at Melia Hotel in Santiago de Cuba

I saw a friend who just returned to Havana from Santiago de Cuba.  Told me the following:

"We were staying in the Melia Hotel in Santiago de Cuba the night Sandy hit.  The Melia is a large, impressive hotel, so we felt pretty safe.  But at three in the morning all hell broke loose. It was like being in a hurricane, a tornado and an earthquake all at the same time.

We were on the 6th floor.  The entire top floor, which I believe was the 20th floor,  was an elegant bar / restaurant.  The wind rocked the building furiously.  Debris continuously hit our windows and exterior walls. But the worst part was that the building rocked to and fro. We could feel creaking inside the walls, and we feared the building would collapse.  But we didn’t know of anywhere to go to feel safer. Obviously, we couldn’t take the elevator.  But even if we went down the emergency stairs, we wouldn’t be able to go outside when we got to the ground.  The lobby could be as bad or worse, since it had large pane glass windows, and if the building fell, it wouldn’t be any better to be on the ground than on the 6th floor.  So we rode it out, petrified.

Suddenly, the whooshing wind, pounding rain and smashing items seemed quiet next to another noise. It sounded like a huge explosion far above us, and maybe more than one.  Then we heard more sounds of large objects banging into other things. Outside the windows (which we shouldn’t have been looking out, but we were), we saw large chairs, equipment and a piano falling to the earth, some banging the building on the way. 

“What happened,” I asked my wife?

“I think the roof must have come off. That seemed to come from the restaurant on the top floor.”
The rocking became louder. More debris swirled around.  The rain came harder again.

Then something new began to happen.  It sounded like huge sewer pipes opened in the walls.  The sound of a huge water flow passing down through the building overtook the sounds we heard outside.  Again, we worried the building would come apart at the seams from the pressure of the water passing downwards from the roof.

Eventually, things calmed. The building remained intact, at least in the area of our floor.  We went down the exterior emergency stairwell, and found the glass that enclosed it broken in many places. We were glad we hadn’t entered it in the nighttime, and perhaps been sliced by flying glass.  Outside, it was unbelievable.  We realized that the roof hadn’t come off, but it might as well have because the restaurant floor was gone.  Many other higher floors were also badly damaged.

We were able to see exposed girders and other interior structures.   It appeared to us that the hotel will not be able to reopen for some time.  The interior damage is immense.  When we left Santiago, there was still no electricity in the area, and thus no Internet. This is one of the few hotels that offers wi-fi. It obviously won't be for a while."

Here are photos of the hotel and surroundings.

Franklin Marquez.


Top Floor Restaurant

See Top Floor Restaurant at Right

National Geographic's Cuba - On the Edge of Change

National Geographic's November, 2012 Issue contains an interesting article on Cuba.  The author interviews a number of people on both sides of government support, including dissidents who recently attempted to escape by boat.

Although it talks about change, it does not address the most recent changes, because it was written before the Pope visited, over a year ago.

The entire article appears there, but I do not know how long it will remain.  I am not printing the text, so I am not accused of copyright violation.

Franlin Marquez

Don't Tell Dad, I'm going to Cuba

Somebody gave me this interesting New York Times article about a person returning to Cuba for the first time since she was 6.  Her feelings match ours.  Her father's feeling matches that of many Cuban-Americans, and we sometimes hear the same comments on our trips to Cuba.

This article perfectly explains the two sides of the issues:

Franklin Marquez

Cuban Citizen View of New Laws on Travel

I asked Oswardo, who is a Cuban citizen, living in Havana, about the new changes to the law regarding ability to travel, to become effective in January.  He is very enthusiastic about the changes, much more so than I had expected. He says many in his country are just as excited.

He said, “I think the new travel laws are the best thing that has happened in over 40 years. ”

He recites how complicated, expensive, time consuming, and virtually impossible for the masses, any kind of travel has been until now, and how much simpler it will be under the new law.  He explains certain aspects of how a temporary visit outside the country will be easier, while leaving permanently will still be complex.  But, under the new rules, he feels confident that one can do that as well.

Oswardo explains the Letter of Invitation. “Until now, an immediate family member (mother, father, brother, son) living in the country to which a Cuban wished to travel had to issue a document called the Letter of Invitation, inviting the Cuban.  This letter cost 200 dollars (which is about ten times what a working Cuban citizen makes per month). The Letter of Invitation requirement is eliminated under the new law.

Under the prior law, after a Cuban citizen received a visa or other document from the government of the country to which a Cuban wished to travel, he or she would have to submit an application for permission to leave the country. The government of Cuba would take a long time to determine whether or not to issue this document, and charge a fee of $150.  Many people never received it before the visa expired, or were denied outright. Certain public figures like musicians, authors and sports figures were issued the document, but they would generally receive it only if they were outspoken proponents of the government. Dissidents were denied.

In addition to the above, before a most countries would issue a visa to a Cuban, they required a cash deposit. Oswardo explained that the amount of the cash deposit “depended on the country to which one wanted to travel. Venezuela required 1,000 CUC [roughly $1,000 American dollars]. The deposit had to be made in the bank a minimum 6 months in advance. Other countries require more. Countries like Spain and Italy required 5,000 CUC  and 7,000 CUC. To obtain a visa from Mexico, one had to show a bank account, but no dollar amount or period of time.” He also said neither Ecuador nor Chile required a deposit.  The U.S. does not have such a requirement because it gives visas to Cubans very cautiously.  Once a Cuban goes to the other country and does not return to Cuba, the deposit is lost.
In addition to the cash requirement, one had to disclose real property owned by the one wishing to travel or by a family member.  If one leaves and does not return, the government apparently still takes their property.

The changes in Cuban law do not of themselves affect the deposit requirement, since it is a rule from the country to be visited.  But Oswardo says “as soon as the new law was announced, Venezuela dropped the $1,000 requirement, although it still requires some bank account.”

Oswardo says now all one needs from the Cuban government is a passport, and the passport will be issued if there is a visa from the other country.

Dissident Yoani Sanchez, who has been denied the right to travel numerous times, has pointed out that the government may cut back on issuance of passports. She is skeptical that she will really be able to travel.  But Oswardo did not have that concern.  Oswardo explains that “the cost of a passport increases from $55 to $100 under the new law.”

He also says if one has permission from one’s work, one can remain outside the country for three months without losing his or her job, and one can remain outside the country for up to 2 years without losing any rights.

Oswardo says under the new law, travel will be, “really like anywhere in the world.”
I asked about the special occupations that are excepted from the new, open law. He said, “Before, if a doctor wanted to travel for pleasure the doctor could not do it, and if the doctor wanted to leave Cuba permanently, I would have had to wait between 5-15 years for permission.”  He said, “Now if a doctor or anybody wishes to travel temporarily, he or she may do so by requesting permission from his or her work, and to be able to leave permanently, one must wait between 1-5 years maximum to live in another country.” [I am not so sure that the special rule regarding doctors is quite as liberal as Oswardo thinks.]

Another area that changes under the new law according to Oswardo is the need of Cuban citizens living in other countries to obtain an Entry Permit to visit Cuba. He says under the new law, they only need a visa, like any other traveler to Cuba. Up to now, a Cuban returning to his homeland could remain in Cuba for only 90 days, but he says they under the new law, the Cuban could remain almost 11 months.  

He and others indicate there are further tweaks to the new law, to be announced soon.  

He acknowledges that it is still expensive for Cubans to travel, if their income is the $20 to $30 paid by the government. But many people will “sell their homes and property to pay for the trip and take money to start in other countries.” He says that with the new financial reforms allowing businesses, “Cubans will now be allowed  to  travel to buy cheaper goods in other countries and return to resell them here.”
He says because of all these changes, “many people are happy with the measures, which are very liberal; the bans were removed in their entirety.”

The day after the changes were announced, he wrote on Facebook, “Last night was a great night. New immigration measures met my expectations and those of the majority of Cubans. At last we can perform procedures like any other citizen of the world without much bureaucracy and be free to come and go as we like.  It is not perfect, but compared to 50 years of absurd laws, in my opinion I think is a remarkable improvement. What I like is that those who have family members who left illegally can return to see their family here in Cuba freely because they are allowed to come for visits. Cubans who are scattered throughout the world, for one reason or another, we can finally meet in the land that gave birth to all Cubans. For me, it will be a unique experience and relevant. For the first time in my lifetime I see a strong blow to the bureaucracy, it was necessary.”

Many news sources are not as supportive of the new law changes as Oswardo. They says the Castro government is still just gasping for air.  Other news articles on the subject include:

Franklin Marquez

More of Hurricane Sandy in Santiago

Power is still not completely repaired in Santiago de Cuba, which Hurricane Sandy crossed early on it's way to wreak devastation in the U.S. Northeast.  Fortunately, Santiago is rather elevated over the harbor, but there was plenty of wind damage.  I met people tonight who were there when the hurricane hit, and they told of the damage, and the roads under water between Cienfuegos and other cities to the north west.

Franklin Marquez