Saturday, April 17, 2010

Now 23 Amazon Book Reviews, CR President-Elect Supports Lobo, Cuba News

Just checked in with Amazon and discovered that my book now has 23 reviews, 21 5-star and 2 4-star. It’s always surprising and humbling that readers manage to find my book and take the time to post a review on line. Thanks guys, even though we’ve never met, I do appreciate knowing that I’ve connected with you.

I’ve posted over 100 Feb. trip photos here on this blog, one by one, all with captions related to the trip narrative, which had appeared earlier on the same day (April 12). (Some of the same photos, in reverse order without captions, had also been posted by my daughter Stephanie previously.) I trust that will readers know how to go through all the photos sequentially by clicking on “older.” Some look a little dark because the camera I borrowed had no flash (my own camera was stolen in Honduras in Feb. 2009) and often there was no electricity inside. They show natural or dim light, just as it actually was. Sometimes when I log onto the blog, several photos appear on the page, easier to follow, but, other times, they appear only one by one requiring you to keep clicking “older” to see the next one. I don’t know what governs that.

Our local Spanish-language press reports that the newly elected Costa Rican president Laura Chinchilla backs Porfirio Lobo as the legitimate president of Honduras and that El Salvador and Guatemala also support the return of Honduras to the OAS. In other news, remittances to Central America have risen somewhat and the Honduran army was dispatched to the capital after a gang war that left 9 people dead. During 2009, there were 5,300 reported murders and 112 kidnappings in Honduras, a country of about 7 1/2 million.

Although Honduras is the main subject of this blog, hope my readers will indulge my interest in Cuba as well.
Cuba: Employees Take Ownership of Hair Salons
By REUTERS, April 12, 2010

Cuba is turning over hundreds of state-run barber shops and beauty salons to employees in what appears to be the start of a long-expected revamping of state retail services by President Raúl Castro. The measure marks the first time state-run retail establishments have been handed over to employees since they were nationalized in 1968. Barbers and hairdressers said they would now rent the space where they worked instead of receiving a monthly wage.

Cuban officials prove super-suspicious of US visitors

Here is the narrative of a recent visitor to Cuba who tried to go on a humanitarian mission to deliver medical supplies and was turned back. He has agreed to share his experience.

You may recall that I told you I was going to Cuba on a service trip on behalf of a Humanitarian License to deliver much needed medical goods to various hospitals, clinics, and orphanages in Havana. On December 29th 2009 I travelled to Jose Marti Int’l Airport by way of a chartered flight out of Miami…I arrived in Havana at around 2 PM. When going through customs, the official knew I was not of Cuban descent nor was I apart of a larger group, so he knew that I must have a license to for travel. He asked to see my license and marked it down on a piece of paper. I then went through customs with no problems. I grabbed my bag from the carrousel and waited in the line to get my exit card. While I was waiting a customs official tapped me on the shoulder and motioned for me to come to a table. He started asking why I was there, where I was staying, where I was from, what school do I go to, what am I studying, where will I be going once in Cuba, what exactly am I in Cuba for, etc. I expected these questions. I actually expected to be asked the questions sooner—I didn’t assume that I would walk right through a Cuban airport—as a U.S. citizen—with no problems or questioning. I answered all of the customs official’s questions truthfully. When he asked why I was in Cuba I answered that I was on behalf of a Humanitarian License granted by the U.S. Treasury Dept.’s Office of Foreign Assets Control. He looked at my license paper and then took my suitcase over to a very large stainless steel table that very much resembles a gurney. About 4 to 5 more customs officials came over and started removing everything from my suitcase and documenting everything that lay inside. I was questioned regarding every little thing in the suitcase—who is it for, what is it, etc. It was all medical supplies—aspirin, ibuprofen, acetaminophen, adult vitamins, children’s vitamins, bandages, Neosporin, etc. They placed all of the humanitarian aid into one large sac and weighed it: 11.7 kilos…

For about twenty minutes, the customs officials proceeded to ask me more questions. I was then directed to a chair that was further inside the airport. I was told to sit in the chair and to stay there. I waited for about a half hour. About four officials, three men and one woman translator (who was hardly a translator), surrounded me. This time the officials, whose seemingly authoritative uniforms suited their, literally, towering status, proceeded to ask me more questions. I don’t know exactly when, but the questioning quickly turned into interrogation as the officials took-on a somewhat aggressive tone that was coupled with seemingly paranoid questions. “Who are you working for?” one of the officials asked me in an overly confident tone. “Oh no, I am not working for anyone. I am working through an organization. It’s a non-profit organization.” The distinction was completely abortive. My mind raced as I frantically tried to remember the differences between por and para. “What is the name of the person you are working for?” the woman stated in awfully spoken English. I am working through “E.C.H.O. Cuba—Evangelical Christian Humanitarian Outreach…

For eight hours I was interrogated and not allowed to move from my seat or eat or drink. I was eventually deported. If I tried to get up I was yelled at and told not to move. I was flown back to Miami. ECHO’s manager told me that this has never happened to anyone who they have worked with before. He stated that they just arrested a U.S. contractor two weeks before I flew to Havana, and he is supposedly still incarcerated. Consequently, the Cuban government was hyper-paranoid about any U.S. citizens traveling to Cuba. Nonetheless I am extremely grateful for my time in Cuba as I have developed an incredible gratitude for democracy. I do plan on hopefully going back someday!

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