It’s time both countries realize what their own citizens see — that closer ties benefit both sides.

DSC_1041Preparing to take a luxury yacht through the Panama Canal, then onward around Cuba, the end of this month, and then later this year rejoin PEARL MIST lecturing on board for our cruises around Cuba, round trip from Ft. Lauderdale, I’m particularly interested in following news from and about our next-door neighbor.

Trump, who couldn’t wait to reverse Obama’s policy of prying open the door to Cuba, has announced that the US Embargo on Cuba will continue.  The Cuban government claims the Embargo damages Cuba to the tune of $4 billion US a year.  But the Embargo, which hasn’t worked for over 50 years, continues to hurt only the Cuban people, not the Cuban government.

It now appears that the mystery illness targeting US Embassy workers in Cuba and China is as some of my Cuban friends suggested, the work of Russia, not Cuba, China, or some new CIA security system installed in the reopened US Embassy in Havana that had unforseen human consequences. [As with agent orange in Viet Nam, the US sometimes rushes ahead with new, unproven military-type “technolgy” without understanding the long-term consequences, or else just not telling anyone about the potential reisks.]  If it is the nefarious actions of Russia, one might ask just what benefit the US is getting from Trump’s cozy relationship with the former KGB agent, Putin.

At any rate, I found this editorial in the TAMPA BAY TIMES to be interestsing …

fter an encouraging start, the breakdown in America’s reset with Cuba is a loss for both sides and for the state of democracy across the region. Havana and Washington are both to blame, but the Trump administration’s hard line with Cuba is out of sync with the times and damaging to the interests of Florida.

DSC_0228The Tampa Bay Times’ Paul Guzzo chronicled the latest development in the relationship this week. Tampa-based Florida Produce once symbolized the potential of new U.S. trade with Cuba. In 2015, as nearly a half-century of enmity began to thaw, the company asked Cuba for permission to open a 100,000-square-foot facility in Havana to house and sell American goods. Cuban leaders seemed inclined, the Obama administration was eager for new ties and exporters were interested. But today the project is in limbo, and Florida Produce symbolizes something else: a lost opportunity for the two countries to capitalize on a new era in relations.

Business leaders once saw a flurry of excitement over Cuba. The Trump administration’s harder approach, mixed signals from Cuba’s leaders and fresh concerns over the treatment of U.S. personnel in Cuba have all combined to stall this budding relationship. Trump erected new hurdles to doing business with Cuba by banning U.S. companies from partnering with entities that have links to Cuba’s military. Last year, he tightened rules on travel between the two countries, and more recently, suspended consular services at the recently reopened U.S. embassy in Cuba’s capital after a mysterious attack that left American diplomats complaining of hearing loss, concussion-like symptoms and other ailments. Though the cause of that episode remains unexplained, experts are now examining whether microwave strikes were weaponized to harm dozens of U.S. diplomats and their family members.

The Trump administration’s hard line and the continuing resistance by Cuba’s communist government to improve human rights and liberalize conditions on the island nation virtually guarantee a freeze on relations for the foreseeable future. Still, travel between Tampa Bay and Havana is on the upswing (71,376 passengers flew between Tampa and Havana through April of this fiscal year, reports show, up from 53,512 during the same period in 2017). Cruise ships are sailing more often to Havana. And even officials with Florida Produce have not given up on the warehouse project.

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President Barack Obama showed the value of presidential leadership in forging a new state of relations between Washington and Havana. Yet Obama could have gone further to promote bi-lateral trade. Cuban Americans in Florida and elsewhere played a vital role in helping re-establish some semblance of economic and diplomatic ties.

The person-to-person contacts between Cubans and Americans and the continued lobbying for stronger economic and political ties will help counter the impact of Trump’s change in course. Still, the loss of momentum denies the U.S. an opportunity to expand the ideal of American democracy across the region. And it denies Florida the fullest potential of a new and emerging market only 90 miles from its shore. It’s time both countries realize what their own citizens see — that closer ties benefit both sides.

Cuba’s ‘Si Yo Puedo’ Helps Panama Cut Illiteracy

I live in western Panama in the area that is home to the Gnobe Bugle, the largest Indigenous group in Panama, and the people who likely met Columbus when he put into the area around today’s Bocas del Torro to repair his damaged ships.  Many of our friends, neighbors, and workers are Gnobe Bugle.  And I have a love affair with the people and island of Cuba.  Pearl Cruises has visited Cuba sixteen times, and I have worked on all but the first cruise, and i will be back in Cuba again this winter.  Which is why I find this article so intersting!

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The largest percentage of those who are illiterate in Panama is concentrated in the comarca of Ngabe-Bugle and the provinces of Veraguas and Panama.

Cuba’s internationally recognized literacy program, Yo si Puedo, has helped Panama reduce its illiteracy rate by half over the past 11 years.

In 2010, Panama’s comptroller demographic census revealed that a total of 148,747 people were illiterate. However, 2018 statistics compiled by the Ministry of Social Development, or Mides, show that the total number of illiterate persons has been reduced to 74,080.

In its quest to reduce the illiteracy rate, the Panamanian government adopted Yo Si Puedo, which uses numbers and letters to teach adults how to read and write. One-hundred and fifty Panamanian volunteers were recruited to implement the program said Freddy Alvarez, head of the Cuban collaborator group.

The program lasts for a period of three months and is divided into equal parts: learn how to read and write; transitory period improving reading and writing; and post-literacy or schooling, according to Prensa Latina.

Alvarez emphasized that audiovisual tools and innovative techniques are used to support classes. Each classroom is equipped with a board, television and DVD player and students are provided with pencils and notebooks.

Clara Mendes, the director of Mides, said the largest percentage of those who are illiterate in Panama are concentrated in the indigenous comarca of Ngabe-Bugle and the provinces of Veraguas and Panama.

More than 10 million people in around 30 countries have now learned to read and write through the Cuban literacy program, which currently operates in around 30 countries, from Venezuela, Nigeria, Spain and Australia. Many of the countries that have used the program have seen their illiteracy rates fall dramatically.

Si Yo Puedo is adapted specifically to the geographic areas where it is implemented. Local vocabulary is also used.

TELSUR Prensa Latina

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Bonding with Stanley

Richard and Stanley

So after a month cruising the Great Lakes on PEARL MIST, I’m back home, “relaxing,” i.e. getting caught up on a month’s worth of stuff that needs done, and bonding with our new puppy Stanley.  You can see how much he resists the bonding!  It’s the rainy season, which we love, because by 3 PM it’s raining which is the perfect excuse for stretching out in the hammock on the back porch.

It was a great contract on PEARL MIST including taking the ship to Milwaukee for the first time.  More on that later ….