Cuba Marches Forward

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While some in the US seek to move the clock backward when it comes to recognizing individual rights, Cuba is eagerly marching forward.  As the US works turning back the clock on US/Cuban relationships, Cuba is eagerly courting partners that will step in and fill the gigantic vacumm that exists in Cuba as it developes its own version of economic socialism, much as the US trading partners of Viet Nam and the Peoples Republic of China have already done.  Both China and Russia are eagerly developing ties with Cuba, while the US chooses to ignore the opportunities next door and continues a haughty “we are better than everyone,’ including everyone else in the neigbhorhood, which might include our neighbors the Canadians, the Mexicans, and all of Latin America including Cuba.

If the US wants it, and works hard enough to achieve it, we can have another Cold War, or Hot War.  But Cuba marches forward.

Under the new, proposed Cuban Constitution same-sex marriage would be allowed.  Attitudes in Cuba toward sexuality have changed radically since the early days of the Castro Revolution, led largely in recent years by Raul Castro’s daughter.

Accordidng to Andrea Diaz, writing for CNN, ” the current constitution, written in 1976, defines marriage as “the voluntary established union between a man and a woman,” but an article in the new proposed constittion was modified and doesn’t specify the gender of individuals getting married. Instead it will say “a consensual union between two people.”

“Homero Acosta, secretary of the Council of State, told lawmakers during last weekend’s hearing session that the concept of marriage has been modified to represent the future of Cuba.

“‘We are not the first, nor would we be (in) the vanguard in this matter because there are around 24 countries that have this concept incorporated; we could not turn our back on this issue when preparing a new constitutional project,” Acosta said during the assembly, according to Granma [the official Cuba state newspaper]’

“Acosta also stated that the lawmakers studied international laws to have a better understanding of human rights and prevent any form of discrimination toward the Cuban people.In addition, he argued, whoever discriminates can be punished.

“The state has to educate our people on the principles of equality, and support for the most disadvantaged, the elderly, people with disabilities. It is a principle of social justice and humanism of our system,” he said.

“The senior official explained that once the constitution is ratified, lawmakers will have a year to modify aspects of the Civil and Family Code that stem from this change, including inheritance, as well as rights to adoption and assisted reproduction for same-sex couples.”

Cuba’s existing medical programs allow for gender-changing operations to be performed, covered by the Cuban free medical system.

Cuba’s march toward equality is radically different than the stated goals of many in the current US administration who are seeking to turn back the clock in the US.

Interestingly the proposed new Constittuion “eliminates the term ‘communism’ and marks ‘socialism’ as a state policy, which contradicts the current constitution that calls it a ‘communist society,’ says Granma.

“Esteban Lazo Hernández, president of the National Assembly, pointed out it is important to remember many things have changed since 1976 when the present constitution was written.

“This does not mean that we renounce our ideas, but in our vision we think of a socialist, sovereign, independent, prosperous and sustainable country,” Lazo said, Granma reported.

“In April, Miguel Diaz-Canel was named Cuba’s new President to succeed Raúl Castro, and there were talks of restricting the presidency to two five-year terms, a clause that has been added to the new draft, as well as stating that the minimum age to run for the presidency should be 35 and the maximum 60.

“Even though the office of the presidency is not going away, under the new constitution, the president will no longer be the head of both the Cuban Council of State and Council of Ministers. Instead, the new position of prime minister will be created to lead the Council of Ministers.

“‘The new constitution will take into account all human issues and bring social justice to build a better political system for our people, and strengthen the national unity,’ Diaz-Canel said, the Ministry of National Affairs reported.

“The constitutional reform also opens a path to owning property and will recognize private property and businesses as part of ‘Cuba’s socialist economy,’ which Cuban officials note is a big step to improving the island’s wealth, and a move forward from the current communist constitution that only recognizes state property and agricultural businesses.”

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Cuba is an exciting destination and the time to explore Cuba is now, before it is overrun with mega cruise ships.  I invite you to join me this fall on the intimate PEARL MIST as we sail around the island of Cuba visiting the main areas including Havana, Cienfuegos, Trinidad, and Santiago de Cuba.  I’ll be on the ship at least from November 4th through Christmas and New Year’s.  Come join us!

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Last Christmas the chrech above the entrance to the Cathedral in Santiago de Cuba.  The sign reads, “Christmas is rebirth.”  Cuba is making progress, although the star above the manger is red.  Who knew?

Leadership on The World Stage

Buffoonery on the world stage is an unfortunate blip in world history, which hopefully the world will survive as it has in the past. Geographically, at the center of the world is the tiny country of Panama. The great liberator of most of Latin America, Simon Bolivar, once said that if the world were to have a capital it would be Panama.

This morning CNN led with a story, breaking news, that China wants to become the world power. And this is news? Come on folks! It’s obvious that the U.S., Russia, and China are all vying to to be the world power. If we learn anything from history it is that things always change and nothing lasts forever. World powers come and go. Some focus on the past and others leverage the past to focus on the future.

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China is quietly investing in projects that will position it to be the world power of the future. Whether or not the Nicaragua Canal ever materializes as a functioning entity or not, it is one block in China’s plan. Panama has now given up its recognition of Taiwan, which although remaining closely aligned with Taiwan, officially recognizes The Peoples Republic of China, which happens the be the second largest customer of the Panama Canal [The US is the biggest customer]. Less than ten months into this new relationship with China, Panama is signing a flurry of agreements for cooperation, including feasibility studies for a China-financed high speed train between Panama City and Chiriqui, and the construction of a new Chinese super port that will facilitate increased trade taking advantage of the now-expanded Panama Canal. For the record, Panama doesn’t just talk about infrastructure, but produces … the expanded Panama Canal; the now 4-lane Pan American Highway through Panama; the Panama City Metro with one line operating [35 cents a ride!!], line two nearing completion, and line three in the planning stage; soon to be three new stunning bridges across the Panama Canal linking the continents; Tocumen International expansion moving toward completion that will more than double the capacity of “The Hub of The Americas, and the list goes on!

In this fascinating interview with the President of tiny Panama, Juan Carlos Varela, he talks about Panama’s new relationship with China, and offers a careful, thought-out, intelligent view of Panama’s role at the center of the interconnected global trade.

Varela references the Summit of The Americas in Panama which provided the opportunity to begin the dialogue between President Barack Obama and President Raul Castro, opening the door for U.S. citizens to visit our next-door neighbor. Since I will be returning for a third season cruising around Cuba in a few months, I’m very interested in what happens in Cuba and the U.S. relationship with Cuba, which has deteriorated post-Obama. Cuba needs everything. And there is this enormous vacuum in Cuba. There are three logical players to fill that vacuum: the U.S., China, and Russia. All the beautiful new tourist buses in Cuba – with rest rooms that actually work! – are Chinese. China is building a much-needed new cruise terminal in Havana [and by the way China, Panama City could use a cruise terminal as well]. Right now Russia is meeting with Cuba developing strategies for cooperation. The U.S. struggles to turn back the clock, obliterate any progress that was made by Obama, and continue a failed policy which hasn’t worked and won’t work. We sit back and let China and Russia have their way with our next-door neighbors.

AirBnB: First & LAST Experience

We have lived in Panama 14 years and the last time my daughter and her family were able to visit my oldest grandson was only 4 years old.  So, we had the whole family down and with two boys, ages 5 and 10, we wanted this to be a special and perfect visit.  Knowing that I would be on a ship, flying home the same day they arrived and literally meeting up with them in baggage claim at Tocumen Airport, I wanted everything arranged and nothing left to chance.  We had a busy three days planned for Panama City before flying up to Boquete.

I had never used AirBnB, but I’ve heard a lot about it, and was amazed while I was working on a ship going to Cuba how popular the concept was … in Cuba!

Logging on to the AirBnB Web site, I was surprised at how cumbersome and clunky it was, and how difficult it was to actually navigate and find things.  But I did find what looked to be a perfect solution for us …

https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/24377495

It was right in the heart of the old, colonial city, Casco Viejo, had beautiful pictures, was one of the old colonial buildings that looked to have been delightfully restored, and had beds sufficient for the six of us, and with a complete kitchen would make it very easy to keep the kids happy and fed, and all of the amazing Casco Viejo was in walking distance.  So we booked it to the tune of $532.98.

“Superhost” Maurcio was praised in the write ups, so all looked good.  Knowing how chaotic Casco Viejo can be, and that, like most of Panama, there are no street signs or addresses, and since no postal deliver service, I emailed “Superhost” Mauricio for detailed directions.    Since I was onboard ship with very limited email/Internet connectivity I requested several times directions and addresses from Mauricio.  His only response was “Calle 6 Oeste, Casco Viejo.”  Knowing that I needed much more than this I made several requests without response.

So as I travelled between the ship, airport, and flew to Panama I could only hope that our driver could find what was advertised on AirBnB as the “Mi Casa Inn.”

We arrived in Panama, got our luggage, piled into our driver’s van and headed off to find “Mi Casa Inn” on “Calle 6 Oeste, Casco Viejo.”  Knowing we needed more precise information we called the phone number provided by “Superhost” Mauricio, but there was no answer.  We left a message and asked him to call back ASAP.  Driving around Casco Viejo at 9:30 PM, up and down Calle 6 Oeste, neither the driver, nor anyone we asked, which by the way included four policemen on the beat, three restaurants/stores, and one woman working the street, and nobody had heard of anything like “Mi Casa Inn” or knew anything.  Predictable?  Yes, which is why I had been so insistent asking our “Superhost” Mauricio for specific directions, even a GPS location, but he provided nothing.

By this time, it was 10:30 am, driving around Casco Viejo in the darkness, with two kids, ages 5 and 10, who had been up since 4 am Pacific Time, we had no choice but to abandon our plan and seek a place to stay.  Fortunately, Wyndham Albrook was able to accommodate us with two rooms at a cost of $300 for the night.

Since “Superhost Mauricio” had cancelled our stay by his nonperformance, after a brief flurry of email attempts to AirBnB, we decided to remain at Wyndham, at $300 a night, and not mess around any further with Mauricio or AirBnb.  I requested a full refund for nonperformance.

The morning after driving around Casco Viejo in circles, getting into the Wyndham, I was able to get online and find that “Superhost” Mauricio had indeed sent me directions, the detailed directions I had requested when I booked and several times in the interim, he had send the directions at 8:45 PM the night before we were scheduled to check in … when of course I was traveling between the ship and Panama without Internet access, which of course is the reason why I had explicitly asked him for the information earlier, explaining that I was on traveling without reliable access.

Between my wife and the driver we attempted to call Mauricio’s number, as listed on the reservation, SEVEN times, leaving an urgent message each time, but we never received any response.

First, Mauricio offered a $50 refund.

Then AirBnB offered to cover half of the cost of our first night hotel, if we went back to trying to find Mauricio’s “Amazing new and big apartment with terrace/garden.”  Had they offered to cover the whole cost, $300 for two rooms, rather than only half, I might have viewed it as at least a noble gesture of good will.

AirBnB has upped their offer to $200.

I paid $532.00 for nothing!  Of course I want a complete refund.  AirBnB is located in Dublin so they can duck all responsibility and  I will probably need more than the luck of the Irish to get any refund.  We shall see.

Doing a little online research, I discover that even although prostitution is legal in Panama City, it turns out that “Super Host” Mauricio’s business is not.  According to the Administrator of the Tourism Authority of Panama, Gustavo Him, the rental of apartments or residences through the Airbnb platform for less than 45 days is prohibited in the district of Panama.  Without any government oversight, you stay in an AirBnB at your own risk since there is nobody checking on the health and safety of these very independent and sometimes illegal accommodations even although in many jurisdictions, apparently nobody really cares. And AirBnB is located in Dublin, so good luck with that.

It sounded good … maybe too good to be true.  I know the AirBnB concept is popular with almost everyone but hoteliers, but based on my experience with a “Superhost” no less, I’m not sure I want to be taken in by the beautiful pictures and hype of AirBnB again.

Interestingly, I note that AirBnB no longer identifies Marucio as a “Superhost.”  AiBnB sent an email requested information/evaluation which when I attempted to respond had apparently been disabled.  Their Web site makes it almost impossible to communicate with them, which I guess is their intent.