Placing blame on the latest Cuba-travel screw-up

Álvaro Fernández | Progreso Weekly | April 26, 2014

MIAMI – Since the news broke on Thursday, I’ve had numerous persons call me, email me and push me to write, “to inform,” they said, regarding this confusing situation we’re dealing with here in the U.S., mostly in Miami, with Cuban family members and their visits to loved ones on the island.

Placing blame on the latest Cuba-travel screw-upI have taken my time. I did not want to react. Something we have all been programmed to do when it comes to almost anything related to Cuba and its relationship with the many Cubans who live outside of its shores. I also did not want to fall prey to U.S. government spooks – those who don’t appear to exist, but still manage to bring us more than 50 years of ZunZuneos – who, I am convinced, relish the thought of Cubans, on both sides of the Florida straits, rallying behind “injustices” wrought by the Castro government.

As I told many of my colleagues, the news to report is simple. If you are a Cuban who resides elsewhere, and you’re traveling to Cuba, you better have your passport in order. Apparently, for years now, Cuban immigration was allowing Cubans to enter the country with valid passports that had not been prorogated or extended.

[Cuba requires what is known as a “prórroga,” the prorogation every two years on a passport that is issued for six.]

The news, delivered from island authorities to the charter companies who carry passengers to Cuba, was that persons with passports not updated and current would not be allowed to enter the country. Based on recent history, the sudden announcement, and immediate enforcement, caused numerous problems at Miami International Airport and its counterpart in Havana.

I understand there’s plenty of blame to go around when it comes to this latest Cuba problem. And if you live in Miami, especially, the media has had a field day, something they’ve been missing for quite some time now – bashing Cuba and its government. The message to relate has been clear and delivered by many. I found this specific one on Facebook which sums it up (I have shortened, translated and paraphrased):

“Where is the interest in the Cuban family so often expressed by the Cuban government? Why does it impede Cubans from entering the country in order to prorogate their documents, something they cannot do currently in the U.S. due to the closing of the Cuban consulate?

“Where is the socialist compassion for our fellow citizens who live elsewhere?

“They (the Cuban government) would rather put pressure on the U.S. government in order to obtain a bank so that they may handle the consulate’s banking, while punishing us working stiffs who toil like mules to help, and visit, our families.”

My first reaction, after hearing the news last Thursday, was similar. “Damn it!” I said.

I decided to meditate, as a friend in Havana often advises. For if there is one thing I’ve learned about the U.S.-Cuba relations since I arrived in this country as a small child in 1960, it’s that it is not always what it seems…

What is so wrong in demanding that a country’s citizens have their passports in order? It sounds to me like the Cuban government wanting to better organize itself.

As for the Cuban government more interested in attaining access to banking services here in the U.S. Try living in the U.S. without a bank account. A credit card. A debit card.

Just recently I had a conversation with a Cuban functionary who lives in Washington. He told me of his experience without access to banking services. He told me the story of his trip to a store with his small son late one night for something the child needed. After purchasing the item, as he was leaving, he could not exit the parking lot… The only way out was with a credit or debit card. He had neither.

We later laughed at the story. The truth is it’s not funny. Especially when you consider the purpose of the trip.

So you see, the banking situation affects more than just us. The problem is much bigger than we think.

As for the blame?

I would ask: Who’s committing the greater injustice?

And I would answer my own question by asking you to focus on where it belongs: the U.S. government.

Are we not aware that without an embargo, or even simpler yet, without Cuba on the state sponsor of terrorism list the U.S. government keeps it on for political reasons, together with Iran, Sudan and Syria, this problem would never have existed?

Since 1991, in fact, a great majority of the countries on earth have condemned the U.S. economic and trade embargo – last year by an overwhelming 188 to 2. The only other exception was Israel. But the U.S. insists that the rest of the world is wrong. Even worse, it sets the laws and standards on how the rest of the world must act – oftentimes not following their own rules.

So tell me? Who is really to blame?

The Cuban government is right in tidying up the mess with the passports.

But Jesus! Couldn’t they have issued a warning, advising of an end date for operating as they had for years now? I believe it would have worked better. Less mess. And it would not have allowed fodder for the ZunZuneros on this side, more like vultures than hummingbirds, waiting to pounce at every opportunity.

One last suggestion, and it’s also for the Cuban government. Make passports last for 10 years. Life would be so much easier. As for prorogation… sounds like a thing of the past.

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