Obama Rebuilds Cuba

 With Irreversible Improvements 
       The new era in U.S.-Cuba relations ushered in boldly and dramatically by President Obama will be tested when he leaves office in January, especially if Republicans claim the White House or if they maintain their majority in both houses of Congress. Yet...the revenge, economic and political motives that have dictated America's Cuban policy since the triumph of the Cuban Revolution in 1959 will have trouble reversing or turning back Obama's fresh and popular imprimatur on the highly promising and nearby island. While a handful of self-serving Cuban exiles aligned with a handful of right-wing sycophants have benefited from using Cuba as a punching bag and piggy-bank for over half-a-century, Obama has sliced through their propagandized rationale and imposed a measure of sanity and decency to America's Cuban relations that will now be supported by an American pillar known as capitalism. Intimidation coupled with a media dominance of the Cuban narrative will now be confronted by U. S. businesses demanding to partake in the island's commercialism. Among the collateral benefactors, Mr. Obama hopes, will be the Cuban people who have long been punished by the world's superpower in the guise of overthrowing or just hurting Fidel Castro, that old anti-Mafia revolutionary icon who is just a few weeks shy of his 90th birthday.
       This photo helps explain why a few anti-Castro zealots will have trouble, even in post-Obama America, dictating a Cuban policy designed to suit their revenge, economic and political motives. This is the Four Points Havana Hotel in the upscale Miramar section of Havana. This week -- the last week in June of 2016 -- it became the first U. S. Hotel to open in Cuba in 60 years. It's where the old Quinta Avenida hotel was located. With a lot of Yankee dollars, Four Points has already been updated into a jewel and America's Starwood Hotel and Resorts will close it for another couple months to continue the expensive refurbishing process. It will then open with a charge of only $249 per night for each of its 186 magnificent rooms.
           This photo provides a peek inside the entrance to Havana's Four Points Hotel. It's the first of three Cuban hotels to be upgraded and operated by the world-renowned Starwood Hotel and Resorts brand. 
        The Cuban flag flying in front of its embassy in Washington for the first time since 1961, coupled with the American flag doing the same at its embassy in Havana, is an Obama trademark that might herald his legacy for decades and generations to come. Starwood Hotel and Resorts, American Airlines, Carnival Cruise Lines, MasterCard, and many other American businesses doing business in Cuba is now a trend with a brisk Caribbean wind at its back providing a momentum that will be hard to blunt in a capitalist society.
      Yesterday USA Today reported that this luxurious Cyprus-based Celestyal Cruises ship will begin year-round trips to Cuba starting in 2017. The 25,000-ton vessel has been sailing to Cuba during winter months from Montego Bay, Jamaica, for the past three years but only with non-American passengers because of the embargo. But because of Obama, Americans will now be allowed to book passage and thus the company has added year-around cruises to Cuba. Earlier this year Carnival Cruises lines out of Miami began making twice-monthly cruises to Cuba in defiance of a five-decades-old ban due to the embargo.
Obama eased Cuba's "fear" of the United States.
And that was his starting point.



Re-Americanizing Cuba

 Step by Step  
{Updated: Wednesday, June 29th, 2016}
       This REUTERS/Enrique De La Osa photo is less than 24 hours old but it is already historic. It shows the Gaviota 5th Avenue Hotel in Havana and it's the first hotel in Cuba since the 1959 Revolution to be operated in Cuba under a U. S. brand. The Gaviota flag on the left signifies the Cuban government's Hospitality Company and that flag flies higher than the U. S. flag in the lower right. This hotel is the first of two that will be managed by America's Starwoods Hotels & Resorts. Starwoods has set the price per room at $249. The Gaviota's inauguration and indoctrination into a fast-changing Cuba will be held today -- June 28th, 2016. But then it will close for another few months while undergoing a total refurbishment. Nancy Sarabia, the hotel's P. R. Director, said, "This is a historic moment. It's a symbol of brotherhood and collaboration." 
        This Ramon Espinosa/AP photo shows the magnificent Gaviota Hotel in Havana that is now operated under Sheraton's Four Points and Starwoods Hotels & Resorts brands. The company will begin operating Cuba's Gran Caribe Inglaterra Hotel on August 31st. It marks the largest investment by an American company in Cuba since the triumph of the Cuban Revolution over the Batista dictatorship in 1959.
    Florida's Stonegate Bank will begin issuing credit cards in Cuba.
        This, too, is a recent but historic REUTERS photo. It shows a Cuban girl on the Malecon seawall wrapping herself in an American flag as she watches The Adonia, a gorgeous Carnival Cruise Lines ship, enter Havana Harbor. It was the first time in five decades such U. S. cruises to Cuba have been legal.
        Beginning in September, American Airlines and other U. S. carriers, for the first time in five decades, will begin making commercial flights to ten Cuban cities. Since the early 1960s, only charter flights from the U.S.-to-Cuba have been allowed. A man named Barack Obama smashed such ridiculous laws to bits. 
         President Obama's bold and audacious efforts to normalize relations with Cuba have, incredibly, been forged with Republicans in charge of both houses of Congress and anti-Castro Cuban-American zealots in charge of the Congress-mandated Cuban policy. In the dwindling months of his two-term presidency, Mr. Obama's startling revelations relative to Cuba may well stand as his greatest legacy. His overall approval ratings are, amazingly, now positive and his refreshingly sane and decent overtures to Cuba are supported by the vast majority of people around the world including most Americans and most Cuban-Americans.
        This photo taken by the Associated Press's Ramon Espinosa shows Cubans at sunset enjoying themselves on Havana's famed Malecon seawall. The photo is used today to highlight an article in the Miami Herald written by Nora Gamez Torres entitled: "U. S. Policy for Credit Cards in Cuba Too Lenient, Critics Say." The article is a joke. While Cubans in Miami have legalized advantages and incentives that are available to no one else, the same imperialist-minded discriminatory-type laws for over a half-century have punished Cubans on the island unmercifully. Thus, it is no surprise that the Miami Herald opposes any and all efforts by President Obama to bring sanity and decency to a Cuban policy that shames democracy.
       This photo reveals that other nations are following President Obama's lead in opening up to Cuba with mutually beneficial business deals. On the left is Portugal's Foreign Minister Augusto Ernesto Santos Silva being hosted in Havana this week by Cuba's First Vice President {future President} Miguel Diaz-Canel
       Johana Tablada is one of Cuba's most important diplomats. She is now Cuba's Ambassador to Portugal and has also served admirably as the island's Deputy Director for North America. She is responsible for Portugal's closer ties to Cuba. This week as Portugal's Foreign Minister, Mr. Santos Silva, visited the island, Ms. Tablada said, "We are pleased to announce that, in the first six months of 2016, our economy is encouraging and it is poised to continue a growth spurt. Our friendship with Portugal is especially good."


Bad-Mouthing Cuba

 A Republican Pastime 
{Monday, June 27th, 2016}
       This AP photo shows Representative Michael McCaul, a Republican from Texas who is Chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee. He has spent a few days blasting Cuba. Back on Friday, Congressman McCaul planned to fly to Cuba at the head of a five-person congressional delegation but the Cuban government denied them visas. McCaul said, "We wanted to look at their airport security, so I attempted to go down there to just look at them. There were five of us." While Cuba has allowed a plethora of U. S. officials to visit the island, it remains leery of some, especially Republicans it feels are intent on turning back President Obama's efforts to ease the congressional hostility towards the very vulnerable Caribbean nation. Perhaps Republican Congressman McCaul from Texas should comprehend that.
      The Washington Examiner used this graphic to highlight Congressman Michael McCaul's intense anger at Cuba for denying him permission to fly to the island. The sentence at the bottom says, "It is easier for Cubans to come to the U. S. than for the Homeland Security Committee to get to Cuba." That, of course, is a fact. Thanks to Republicans like Mr. McCaul in the U. S. Congress, Cubans are the only people in the world who have very special Wet Foot/Dry Foot financial and residence incentives to come to the United States. And thanks to Republicans like Mr. McCaul, everyday Cubans on the island have been severely punished for the past half-century in the guise of hurting the soon-to-be 90-year-old Fidel Castro. While Mr. McCaul is bad-mouthing Cuba, Cuba says it has both a sovereign right and a civic duty to try to control it borders.
        Cuba's powerful diplomat, Josefina Vidal, says, "In earnestly trying to normalize relations with the United States in the remaining months that the Democrat Barack Obama is President, Cuba has bent over backwards to be fair in negotiating this new frontier. We have allowed a vast array of American government officials to visit our country so they can meet with our officials or with the regular Cuban citizens. We also are aware of some who have harmed our people...been unkind to us...in the past and probably seek to do the same in the future. If Cuba brought peace to the entire world and also cured cancer in the same day, there are those in the United States Congress who would ignore all that while finding or manufacturing things to use against us. We...I myself...trust almost all Americans. But there are some that we have reason not to fully trust. Even if some people don't agree with that assessment, I believe everyone should be able to easily understand it."
       America's 7-foot-1 basketball legend, Shaquille O'Neal, is not in Cuba to bad-mouth Cubans or the Cuban government. The U. S. State Department has appointed Shaquille O'Neal as its first-ever Sports Envoy to Cuba. He will lead basketball workshops and clinics on the island. The State Department release said he will visit historical sites in Havana and "encourage positive ties between the United States and the Cuban people" in keeping with President Barack Obama's historic efforts to normalize relations with Cuba. After giving a clinic in Havana, Shaquille O'Neal said, "We share a lot of things in common. We just want to come over here and extend our friendly hand and just start smoothing things out. It was great for President Obama to reopen the door and make these strides to regain a better relationship with this beautiful island." 
Shaq O'Neal -- U. S. Sports Envoy to Cuba!! 
Cuba's capitol building.


The Predictable Rubio

The 2020 Presidential Candidate
      This superb political cartoon this week by the great Chan Lowe of the Tribune Content Agency actually did not surprise me one iota. You may recall that I laughed aloud in this forum when Marco Rubio the presidential candidate announced that he absolutely was not going to seek reelection to the U. S. Senate from Florida. Even after ending his presidential bid when Donald Trump wiped him out in the Florida primary {his home state}, Rubio still insisted he would not run for reelection to the Senate. I laughed again, you'll recall, right here in this forum, knowing full well he would indeed run. He confirmed that this week, garnering the above reaction from Mr. Lowe, who also probably laughed about Rubio's repeated denials.
       Representing Miami as a first-term anti-Castro zealot in the U. S. Senate, Rubio railed like a spoiled child against anyone that showed even a modicum of decency and sanity regarding the U. S. policy towards Cuba that targets everyday Cubans in the guise of hurting Castro. The above Andy Marlette gem explains that Pope Francis was among those assailed by the juvenile and self-serving tirades of Senator Rubio.
      This masterpiece by Bill Day reflects how Rubio has 100% of the time undignified the Senate by thumbing his nose childishly at any attempt by President Obama to make the U. S. and the world a safer and more cordial place. Rubio got wiped out in his home state of Florida by non-politician Donald Trump, while President Obama, even as a targeted President, has a positive approval rating nationally in June of 2016.
       This icy gem is a reminder that, except for bloviating against Mr. Obama, Rubio has accomplished nothing for his Florida constituents or the American people in the U. S. Senate. His one notable effort at achieving something, a flawed immigration bill, melted in his hands when it first saw the light of day.
       Marco Rubio's now famous "Water Bottle Moment" occurred on network television when the Republican Party afforded him the opportunity to prove he was "America's next rising political star." The "kool-aid" analogy above reflects the fact Rubio wasn't ready then and he won't be ready in 2020.
          Marco Rubio's highly financed presidential bid in 2016 had a free ride from the mainstream U. S. media and from about a dozen of America's richest billionaires -- Sheldon Leonard, Paul Singer, etc.
      Rubio's constant courting of billionaires like top Republican donor Paul Singer provided enough money to buy up several presidential races, except for the fact that America has apparently entered an era when citizens seemingly have tired of such money-crazed anti-democratic tactics. Floridians sent Rubio to the Senate to represent them, and both he and his large staff are being paid a lot of tax dollars, but he hit the Senate running for President and was dead last among the 100 Senators in actually being around to cast votes because he was too busy running around campaigning for President and attending fund-raisers. 
      Sheldon Adelson, the very controversial Jewish multi-billionaire Las Vegas tycoon, was courted heavily by Rubio, creating composite images such as this one. Campaigning in Florida against Trump, Rubio encountered protest signs that said "Embargo Israel, Not Cuba" to taunt his indelible "for sale" image.
      Rubio's emphasis on Jewish billionaires cost him considerable support from his Florida constituents, the ones who had sent him to the Senate. It's one reason he got trounced in his home state by Trump.
         Campaigning in his home state of Florida against the victorious Donald Trump, Rubio undoubtedly didn't expect to see protest signs like the one depicted above -- EMBARGO ISRAEL NOT CUBA. Despite Rubio's vow to "roll back" every single positive overture to Cuba that President Obama has made, polls consistently show that even Cuban-Americans in Miami favor Obama's Cuban policy, not Rubio's. And Rubio was reminded that he was sent to the Senate to represent Floridians, not Israel. Despite the unanimity of polls, Miami still seems capable of sending only anti-Castro zealots to Congress -- Ros-Lehtinen, the Diaz-Balart brothers, Rubio, Curbelo, etc. -- although Miami-Dade has a million qualified moderate Cubans.
       Ken Silverstein is a veteran Washington-based journalist who has been a key reporter for the Associated Press, the Washington Editor for Harper's Magazine, etc. He seems to believe that Rubio is the most corrupt serious presidential candidate American has had. Appalled by the U. S. networks fawning all over Rubio, Mr. Silverstein penned a book-length article, which you can readily Google, entitled: "Poor Little Rich Boy Runs Into Real Estate Trouble." The sub-title highlighted Rubio"s "Piles of Unexplained Cash." And then the very first sentence was: "When it comes to sheer brazen corruption, chicanery and dishonesty there is one candidate who stands head and shoulders above everyone else and he is the right-wing Cuban-American and Tea Party darling Senator Marco Rubio of -- naturally -- the great state of Florida." Of course, the Rubio that Ken Silverstein describes is the Rubio that the mainstream U. S. media and many multi-billionaires wanted to be elected President in 2016, but they'll try again in 2020 and 2024.
The article by Ken Silverstein featured the above graphic. 
       A notable Cuban-American journalist is Arturo Lopez Levy. The powerful Huffington Post on 04/14/2015 published an article by Lopez Levy entitled "Why Senator Rubio's Lies Matter." You can easily Google that title and read it. Lopez Levy wrote: "Throughout his political career, Rubio deceived Floridians, adoring Republicans and others by claiming that his parents fled the Cuba of Fidel Castro. This is a lie exposed by hard journalism in the Washington Post. His parents left Cuba in 1956 as exiles from a tyrannical regime, that of Fulgencio Batista Zaldivar, the right-wing dictatorship that Fidel Castro overthrew." Lopez Levy opined that such lies by Rubio do indeed matter as he condescendingly seems to think that Americans are too stupid to care and the mainstream U. S. media as well as billionaire donors will continue to "adore" him regardless. 
 But this image of Rubio allegedly selling out to billionaires unceremoniously helped end his 2016 presidential bid that was highlighted by his drubbing in his home-state of Florida by Republican long-shot Donald Trump. After bowing out of the presidential race, Rubio still assured everyone that he was not going to seek reelection to the Senate, which he had depicted as being beneath him and "never getting anything done." Yet, with Rubio's ego, the Senate is now necessary to his planned presidential bids in 2020 and 2024. Thus, it was laughable to fall for Rubio's "promise" that he would not seek re-election.
        And so...this composite shows how the Florida's senatorial race is currently shaking out. In the center is Senator Marco Rubio, who will sail away with the Republican nomination. On the left is U. S. Representative Alan Grayson and on the right is U. S. Representative Patrick Murphy. Grayson and Murphy are the two top Democratic challengers to Marco Rubio. This week, on June 22nd, a Quinnipiac University poll indicated that Rubio will win. Rubio leads Murphy 47% to 40% and he leads Grayson 48% to 40%.


Big News From Havana

Affects Region & World
      This photo was taken at a very important news conference in Havana yesterday. On the left is Marcela Duran, a spokesperson for the government of Colombia. Next to her is FARC rebel Marco Calarca. FARC is the Spanish acronym for the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia. At this news conference Ms. Duran and Mr. Calarca announced a peace agreement. That's big news...really big news!! Since 1964...for over five decades...Colombia and FARC have fought a bloody civil war that has killed about 250,000 people and displaced over five million. American taxpayers have contributed tens of billions of dollars in helping the Colombian government's attempt to wipe out FARC, which has never happened. But since November of 2012 Cuba has hosted peace talks designed to finally...finally...end the war. At the above news conference in Havana, Duran and Calarca announced a peace agreement to end the hostilities. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon will attend the official signing ceremony, as will luminaries such as Michelle Bachelet, the President of Chile, because the conflict has affected the entire world and, especially, Latin America.
     Cuban President Raul Castro has brokered the peace talks between Colombia and FARC for four years. This Luis Acosta/AFP/ Getty Images photo shows Castro forcing a handshake between Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos and FARC leader Rodrigo Londono, better known as Timochenko. The peace agreement reached this week is a positive Cuban contribution to the region that even the mainstream media in the United States should acknowledge. President Santos said, "We are adversaries, but we are advancing in the same direction." Timochenko said, "The agreement creates a propitious environment."
     From 1964 till 2014, the fighting was fierce and often ruthless on both sides in the FARC-Colombia Civil War. By 2014, when the peace talks in Havana began producing positive results, the fighting tapered off. And then this week -- June, 2016 -- President Santos and FARC leader Timochenko have made peace.
      Over 15,000 FARC guerrilla fighters are still considered terrorists and criminals but the FARC negotiators in Havana have insisted that they be pardoned or given amnesty if they agree to stop fighting.
        This photo shows Judith and Isa, FARC guerrilla fighters. Young females from poor Colombian families, believing they have been discriminated against by a government catering to rich Colombians, have always made up a significant proportion of the FARC armed forces. Hopefully, the Cuban-brokered peace terms will make life much better for all Colombians, including Judith and Isa in their war-ravaged homeland.
       Since 1962 the U. S. embargo against Cuba has prevented commercial airplane flights from the U. S. to Cuba. Thanks to President Obama's bold, brave and astute defiance of the U. S. Congress, that will change drastically on September 9th, 2016!! That's when hundreds of daily flights from the U. S. mainland to Cuba will commence. American Airlines has just announced its initial fares to the Cuban cities of Cienfuegos, Holguin, Varadero, Camaguey, and Santa Clara. The round-trip rates will be $286, including all taxes, on flights from Miami, Boston, New York, Orlando, Philadelphia, Tampa, and Washington, D. C. The price will be $400 for flights from Houston, Atlanta, Chicago and Dallas/Fort Worth. And for flights from Los Angeles and San Francisco the price will be $500. All major U. S. airlines are chomping at the bits to fly into Havana but the Cuban government is already almost overwhelmed with flights to Jose Marti Airport in its capital city.
       The CEO of Southwest Airlines, Gary Kelly, is also interested in the Cuban market. He says the U. S. has approved two Southwest routes to secondary Cuban cities but he is still awaiting his application for flights to Havana. He says, "Commercial flights from the U. S. to Cuba haven't been allowed for half-a-century, so it's uncharted territory. Also, the embargo still prohibits everyday Americans from visiting Cuba strictly as tourists but there are 12 reasons Washington now recognizes, but how that shakes out is quite problematic."
         Southwest Airlines is America's 4th largest carrier based on traffic but it is the biggest U. S. domestic hauler. The airline industry in the U. S. is booming and Southwest is setting earnings records this year as it strives to cautiously enter the emerging Cuban market and analyze the new U.S.-Cuban rapprochement.

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