To help celebrate Cuba’s July 26 national holiday, the PBS Arts Summer Festival featured the “Havana, Havana” concert Friday with musicians and locals voicing hope for peace.
After Florida’s Senator Marco Rubio – who is on the short list of vice-presidential candidates on the Republican ticket – made his first trip to Cuba May 29; while still having relatives in Cuba, there was talk among other Cuban-Americans in Miami that the U.S. was getting closer to normalizing travel restrictions to this communist island nation. That optimism was buoyed during the recent July 26 national holiday celebration in Havana when “Cuban President Raul Castro said Thursday that his government is willing to mend fences with bitter Cold War foe the United States and sit down to discuss anything, as long as it is a conversation between equals,” reported cbc.ca (Canada’s online information source); while also quoting Castro as saying: "Any day they want, the table is set. This has already been said through diplomatic channels," Castro said. "If they want to talk, we will talk."
At the same time, the PBS Arts Summer Festival celebrated Cuba’s recent national holiday with a July 27 TV concert called “Havana, Havana,” where both Cuban-American musicians and people in Havana voiced approval of “finally normalizing relations” as Washington and Havana have not had diplomatic relations for five decades; even while the State Department still warns that “this 50-year-old U.S. embargo outlaws nearly all trade and travel to the island.”
Senator Rubio could be first Cuban-American vice president
Although Senator Rubio, 41, has distant relatives in Cuba, he told media that his recent visit focused on the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay; while traveling to the island as a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee. According to Rubio’s official biography, his parents “are Cubans who had immigrated to the U.S. in 1956 and were later naturalized as citizens in 1975.”
At the same time, The Washington Post reported back in October 2011 that “Rubio's previous statements that his parents were forced to leave Cuba in 1959, after Fidel Castro came to power, were incorrect as they had in fact left Cuba in 1956 during the dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista. According to The Washington Post report, Rubio's "embellishments" resonate with many voters in Florida, who would not be as impressed by his family being economic migrants seeking a better life in the U.S. instead of political refugees from a communist regime.”
Senator Rubio responded, "The real essence of my family's story is not about the date my parents first entered the United States. Or whether they traveled back and forth between the two nations. Or even the date they left Fidel Castro's Cuba forever and permanently settled here."
PBS Arts Summer Festival getting political
While the PBS “Arts Summer Festival” is marketed as delivering TV event that are fun-filled like the recent “Havana, Havana” concert featured July 27; TV critics say the “subject matter” for this arts festival seems to focus on “political advisories.”
For instance, the festival featured “Islamic Art: Mirror of the Invisible World” during a recent July 6 broadcast that featured the liberal actress Susan Sarandon narrating Islam’s “astonishing artistic and architectural riches;” while also delving into “the art of religious life in Islamic culture” at a time when conservative Republican “Christian” groups want to end federal funding for PBS programming.
Still, this is television and not politics – right?
In turn, PBS boasts that “in the last broadcast season, more than a quarter of all U.S. households tuned into our PBS arts programming, including millions who connected to the arts through the PBS Arts Fall Festival,” said PBS President Paula Kerger. “The Summer Arts Festival is an extension of our year-round commitment to arts programming which viewers can enjoy every Friday night on PBS.
Also, the PBS marketing preview for this “Havana, Havana” program states how viewers will “feel the soul and energy of African-Cuban drummers, guajira guitarists and the pulsing melodies of celebrated Cuban musician Raul Paz, who brings together fellow musical stars Descemer Bueno, Kelvis Ochoa and David Torrens for a concert in Havana.”
However, since Friday’s “Havana, Havana” concert went up against the Summer Olympics open ceremonies; many fans of this lively Cuban music will have to view the concert on PBS reruns (check your local TV listing for times in your region) or visit the PBS “Arts Summer Festival” website to enjoy this show.
Current State Department guidelines on travel to Cuba
The recent U.S. State Department guidance for American citizens wishing to travel to Cuba begins with a recent April 30 overview of the current situation between the U.S. and Cuba.
For instance, the State Department points out that “Cuba is an authoritarian state which controls most aspects of Cuban life through the Communist Party, its affiliated mass organizations, and the state security apparatus. The Communist Party is constitutionally recognized as Cuba’s only legal political party and the Ministry of Interior is the principal organ of state security and control. The Cuban government routinely employs repressive methods against internal dissent and monitors and responds to perceived threats to its authority. These methods include intense physical and electronic surveillance, and in some cases may involve detention and interrogation of both Cuban citizens and foreign visitors.”
Thus, travel to Cuba by U.S. citizens and a permanent resident is restricted by U.S. law and regulations, and travelers generally must obtain a license or qualify for an existing license from the Department of Treasury. Such licenses restrict the activities and transactions in which U.S. citizens and residents may engage while in Cuba. Licensed U.S. travelers visiting Cuba should be aware that any on-island activities could be subject to surveillance, and their contacts with Cuban citizens monitored closely. The United States Government, which does not maintain full diplomatic relations with Cuba, is represented by the U.S. Interests Section (USINT) in Havana, which provides a range of consular and other services. U.S. diplomats, however, are not allowed to travel freely outside the capital and may be prevented from providing assistance to U.S. citizens outside Havana.”
President Obama wants to make peace with Cuba
It was back in 2011 that The New York Times reported how “the Obama administration has eased restrictions on Americans’ travel to Cuba in an effort to encourage more contact between people in both countries, while leaving intact the decades-old embargo against the island’s Communist government.”
In turn, the Times report noted how White House officials said they were lifting travel restrictions imposed by President George W. Bush and expanding the so-called people-to-people provisions created under President Bill Clinton. The changes provide broad opportunities for travel to Cuba by academic, religious and cultural groups and allow charter flights from more American airports.
The new measures (that are currently in effect in 2012) permits Americans to send money to Cuban citizens - except for members of the Castro government and the Communist Party - and to religious organizations to support “private economic activity.”
The White House announcement back in 2011 came at a time when the Cuban government was “carrying out a sweeping economic overhaul,” added the Times report.
After this announcement Senator John Kerry, Democrat of Massachusetts and the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, applauded the measures as “an important step,” saying that they “open the way for the good will of citizens of both countries to forge deeper ties that are in our national interest today and in the future.”
Still, the State Department’s website explained how “restrictions on travel to Cuba have been a key and often contentious component in U.S. efforts to isolate the communist government of Fidel Castro for much of the past 40 years.”
At the same time, the State Department website for 2012 does sound more hopeful that one day soon Americans will again be able to travel to Cuba as tourists under these “more liberal U.S. travel regulations” that were evident during the PBS Arts Summer Festival in Havana July 27 when it aired the “Havana, Havana” concert that was greeted by lots of hugs, handshakes and a welcoming Cuban government that with President Raul Castro – and not his older brother Fidel in power - may sometime soon open the door again for Americans to visit Cuba.
Image source of junior Republican Senator Marco Rubio of Florida who says he's a proud Cuban-American who does not oppose the Obama Administrations new “more liberal U.S. travel regulations” for Americans visiting Cuba. Photo courtesy Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marco_Rubio
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