Sunday, December 27, 2009

Top gifts fill Cuba after easing of ban

Top gifts fill Cuba after easing of ban

HAVANA Christmas in Cuba was awash with hard-to-get presents like
flat-screen TVs and expensive candies as a wave of US-based Cubans
visited for family reunions only made possible by a recent scrapping of
US travel restrictions.

Adrian, one 17-year-old who flew in from the US state of Florida, where
he was born to Cuban immigrants, was overjoyed as he threw his bags into
a relative's classic orange 1956 Chevrolet at Havana's airport. He was
seeing his grandfather for the first time.

"My parents emigrated 20 years ago and I'm so happy to be able to come
and get to know my relatives," he said, grinning.

Next to him, the grandfather, a 60-year-old truck driver named Evaristo
Delgado, was likewise exuberant, though he slammed "the politics that
separate the Cubans here from those over there."

"Over there" mostly means Florida, the closest point in the United
States to the communist island state that Washington has targeted with
an economic embargo dating back five decades, in reaction to the
revolution led by Fidel Castro.

Former US president George W. Bush toughened the embargo by allowing
US-Cuba ns to make only one trip every three years.

In April of this year, though, US President Barack Obama relaxed the
restrictions slightly, by giving Cuban-Americans the right to freely
travel to Cuba. Non -Cuban-Americans, however, remain barred from doing so.

The change has meant that over this Christmas season, up to 10 flights a
day were arriving from Miami in Havana, each of them filled with US
Cubans weighed down with gifts.

Jose Rodriguez, a 50-year-old mechanic standing at the airport with a
bouquet of flowers in his hand, was waiting for one of those flights
which was carrying his 28-year-old niece. The last time he saw her was
three years ago.

"Cuban families have to be able to come together. The restrictions don't
make any sense, nor does the embargo," he said. "The people shouldn't
carry the blame of their governments."

His niece, Nora Rodriguez, arrived and greeted her relatives with a
flurry of hugs and kisses and happy tears. She moved to Miami 17 years ago.

Her glee, though, was tempered a little by the exorbitant price she had
to p ay to for the one-hour flight covering a mere 140km.

"I haven't seen them for three years. They are my life. I love Cuba, and
I miss it, but you end up broke coming here. I paid $600 for the plane
ticket and $300 there for excess baggage and another $126 for the excess
here," she complained.

Another US-based Cuban, Yaimelis, 37, said she arrived with her husband
and their two children from North Carolina to share a typical Cuban
Christmas with her family in Havana. "I came two months ago and now I'm
back. Now we can travel when we want and we save up for it. It's
ridiculous to be split up because of politics. So many people drown at
sea trying to join family members who have left," she said.

She explained that she left Cuba with her parents in 1980, when 125,000
others departed for the United States during a brief permission given by
Castro's government.

Yaimelis said she hoped Obama would ease more of the restrictions, and
that the government of President Raul Castro, Fidel's brother, would
lift barriers to Cubans travelling abroad.

Agence France-Presse
Oman Tribune - the edge of knowledge (27 December 2009)

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