"NOT NEWSWORTHY" EXTORTION AND ABUSE
For quite a long time, the Castro regime has been taking advantage of the suffering of the Cuban people on both sides of the Florida Strait.
Cuban families have been effectively separated by an ideology foreign to them, imposed via terror, by an illegal regime. In fact, Cuba is a country held hostage by criminals –criminals because they violate numerous laws.
Limited family reunifications have been achieved at great expense and risk to the Cuban people since 1959. Individual reunification attempts subject Cubans to all kinds of unethical exploitations. For example, since the 1970s, the Castro regime has been involved in the smuggling of illegal Cubans into the U.S. via third countries in the Caribbean and Latin America for about US$8,000 per family member.
In the 1980s, with the Sandinistas in Nicaragua and Noriega in Panamá, the smuggling of illegal Cubans increased. I have cousins and acquaintances who came this way as well as uncounted thousands of others. Cuban Americans know very well about this and wonder why these stories are not considered "newsworthy" by the U.S. media. I say "newsworthy" because the phrase the media uses to cover their choice to ignore any topic is "It’s not newsworthy".
After Castro decided in 1979 to let Cuban exiles in the U.S. visit their relatives in Cuba via "package deals", many Castro-front companies appeared on U.S. soil. The obvious economic reason for offering the visits is the fact that he can charge U.S. dollars for the privilege. Cuban Americans have been very much aware of this as they arranged their heart-felt visits, but it is deemed not newsworthy by the U.S. media.
Mario Luis Ramirez, founder of the Cuban American Democracy Project in New York City recently wrote, "Please don't be fooled by companies like Marazul Tours which deal in travel to communist Cuba. It has been known within the Cuban American community for over 20 years that Marazul and others like it are nothing but front companies created by the dictatorship in Havana.
"Cuban Americans who have used Marazul, or others similar, have had to pay through the nose to visit family members on the communist island. Not only do they have to pay high prices to visit family in Cuba, but once arriving in Havana, the Cuban American is usually accosted by customs or ‘government officials’ demanding additional payments in U.S. dollars just for coming into the country."
Ramirez cited "One friend of my family who just recently went to Cuba to visit family was forced to pay over US$300 to communist officials at the airport. She also had to pay US$30 each to the airport employees who were standing next to the customs official.
"The travel agent never notified her that something like this would happen. This can be thought of as tribute or punishment which has to be paid up to Fidel Castro for being exiles or ‘gusanos’ [worms] as Cuban Americans are called by the communists and their supporters internationally.
"The fact is that while Cuban Americans have to pay an outrageous amount of money (most of which goes to the Cuban dictatorship via Marazul), Europeans and Canadians who have no family, or any humanitarian concerns in Cuba, enjoy the benefit of ‘cheap’ (as they call it in the United Kingdom) travel packages to the ‘dollar only/no Cubans allowed,’ luxury resorts set up by the Castro regime."
Ramirez points out, "Remember, apartheid is not only a South African creation, but it must be noted that a state of division has existed in Cuba since the revolution began."
And, "Since the Cuban government can't directly deal with Americans who wish to travel to Cuba, it has created a number of institutions like Marazul to deal with Cuban Americans who desire to travel to the island.
"The connection between Marazul and the Cuban communists must be very strong, because no one can just do business with Fidel Castro like that." But this is another fact that conveniently escapes the U.S. media.
Ramirez states "Global Exchange, Amistur Travel, Center for Cuban Studies, Pastors for Peace, and USA-Cuba Info Med, are among the most visible fronts created to spread propaganda and to make money for the Cuban dictatorship while providing ‘cultural exchanges’ or the opportunity to partake in the numerous progressive ventures (student exchanges, film festivals, yoga conventions, etc.) The Cuban tyranny has been designed to fool gullible individuals into believing that the revolution is a Mecca for social justice and enlightenment. Nothing could be farther from the truth!"
For decades Castro’s regime was protected and maintained by the former Soviet Union, but after the collapse of their communist system, Cuba lost its subsidies. In order to survive, Castro and his thugs have to devise all kinds of schemes to extort U.S. dollars to maintain their power while repressing their people.
Since the Clinton-Castro migratory agreement of 1994 in which Castro supposedly would stop the illegal immigration and the U.S. in return would forcibly return all Cubans who do not "touch" U.S. soil, Castro has found a way to turn the seemingly humane agreement into a profit making machine at the expense of Cuban suffering.
Leaving Cuba is not as easy as leaving a free country. After obtaining the U.S. visa, you have to request an exit permit from Castro’s regime in order to be allowed to leave.
According to an independent journalist from Havana, as of last July the price Cuba demands for the "exit permit" to leave Cuba for good is US$600 per person. If your exit is temporary, e.g., to visit your family members in the US, the charge is US$150 per person. The American public should be aware that while salaries in Cuba (paid by the government, since all employers in Cuba are part of the government) are paid in worthless Cuban pesos, these exit fees must be paid in US dollars, which, of course, have to come from the relatives abroad.
There are four million Cubans wanting to leave for good. But the U.S. media again does not give this information.
In addition, Cubans have to pay in US$ for a myriad of other fees to Castro for wanting to leave or just to travel to see their relatives abroad. For example: passport US$50, medical check-up US$400, airport use US$20 plus US$ for their round trip airfare valid for one month only. So, US$620 must be paid to the Cuban government for one person to visit the US to see family plus airfare and other surprise ever changing fees.
Cuba issues only one-month permits to be out of the country. After that month is over, the relative of that Cuban visitor abroad has to renew, on a monthly basis, to extend that permit at US$175 per month and buy again, from Cuba, the round trip airfare ticket. No one way tickets are permitted. Ransom is the word.
A political refugee who left Cuba this year reported that in the hospital where he received his medical check-up before leaving, he only saw one doctor who took his blood pressure with his two fingers on his left arm and flashed an stethoscope 4 inches away from his chest. The other four members of his family experienced the same. For that "check-up" they paid about US$1,900! The US media should report this, but don’t hold your breath.
Everyday in Castro’s Cuba there is a new regulation to make the legal exodus more difficult and humiliating. As of September 1999, all medical doctors have to wait from three to five years before the regime will discharge them from their duties so they can leave the country. However, after three to five years, their U.S. visas may expire and they will have to start all over again.
During that period the doctors will be separated from their families and sent to serve – as punishment – to wherever the regime decides.
Regulations like this and thousands of others are afflicting the daily lives of Cubans. They are among the reasons why so many desperately risk their lives to cross the Florida Strait on their own or pay US$8,000 to smugglers in combination with the Castro regime.
That is why it is so sad to see them treated with cruelty and brutality by the U.S. Coast Guard. In fact, the US Coast Guard looks as bad as Castro’s Coast Guard when, following orders of the Clinton Administration, they forcibly return them to their island jail where they will continue to be harassed by Castro’s henchmen. Apparently, none of these extortions and abuses passes the "newsworthy" threshold set by the U.S. media.
Agustín Blázquez with the collaboration of Jaums Sutton
Mr Blazquez is the Producer/Director of the documentaries
COVERING CUBA and CUBA: THE PEARL OF THE ANTILLES