Author Archives: Steve Link

About Steve Link

In Namibia with the U.S. Peace Corps July 2014 - July 2016.

Picture Cuba 2018

Cuba satellite mapAFTER this pictorial post you will find some narrative text.  Feel free to post questions and comments at the end…

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Geared up for the zip line.

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The beach was also beautiful!

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On Papa’s bed: to the right “Hemingway, wife in plane crash” and on the left next to Ike’s photo “HEMINGWAY’S SECOND PLANE CRASH” 

DSCN1213DSCN1219FramptonFramptonFSCN1174Lester Campa

The art of Lester Campa [above]

Papa at home

Obama strolls past the sand painting in 2016.

sand painting mural 2016


¡ Cuba Si !

Nine Days in Cuba

When I say ¡Cuba Si! I am not speaking politically or economically. Rather I say “Cuba Yes!” for a terrific travel experience. For starters, we must thank “the agency” for making arrangements that worked perfectly for us. If you’re considering a visit to this island nation, please visit Manny and Caroline at www.cubatraveladventuresgroup.com. They set us up with Daniel to guide us and Jorge, our driver, without which we would have been wasting precious time and energy trying to figure out our itinerary, directions, transportation, dining options, etc. A guide and driver are indispensable on a first visit to Cuba.

Our flight departed 6am on 25 March via Delta Airlines from Cincinnati to ATL, then direct to Havana for two nights followed by two nights in Viñales before returning to Havana for another four nights.

Accommodations were beyond our expectations. While in the city we enjoyed a spacious master bedroom and large bath in the home of a prosperous, well-heeled woman who is a producer of live music events.  This is where we stayed in Havana… Casa Odette.

https://cubaholidays.co.uk/blogs/posts/116124/concert-dinners-the-latest-innovation-in-cubas-private-dining-scene  

Some writing by a different Odette…  https://www.huffingtonpost.com/author/odette-casamayor

Day One Daniel and Jorge met us at the airport and our passage was as smooth as Cuban rum. Settled in Jorge’s taxi we headed to our accommodation at Casa Odette, met the agency’s admin who delivered our CUC’s, and soon were off to dine with a very enthusiastic and knowledgeable professor to talk about various aspects of Cuba’s economy and culture. He is political science professor and diplomat Camilo Garcia. We enjoyed our time with him and discussed Cuba’s history, government, politics, U.S.-Cuba relations, role of women in society, gender and LGBT education issues, Fidel’s Literacy Project, and Cuba’s predominant Santeria spiritual faith. And we sipped – okay, slurped – our first mojitos…mmmm! Later we danced under the stars to the salsa band Moncado…sort of like Conan O’Brien did. And we really did sip the beloved and iconic rum, Havana Club (7 Year).

While Jorge speaks no English, Daniel’s English is excellent. More importantly he is very knowledgeable. I can’t recall a question that he couldn’t answer – well a couple of times he did consult the internet on his mobile phone.

Each breakfast was prepared by our host’s staff and was consistently delicious. Typically we enjoyed fresh fruit, juice, bread or toast, cheeses, little sandwiches, scrambled eggs with bacon or ham, pastries and, of course, fresh coffee with hot milk. Every morning Jorge and Daniel would pick us up – usually at ten o’clock – to begin our adventures.

Day Two After a very fine breakfast we toured some of Havana where Daniel talked about many aspects of Cuba’s history and current conditions. Like any big city there are wide ranging conditions from serious slums to current construction and re-construction. Modern buildings were underway and old Spanish architecture was in total disrepair, perfectly gorgeous or being restored. Cuba’s violent crime rates are low and guns are in the hands of the policia aka military in this communist country. Yet there was one neighborhood where Daniel would not even drive through in daylight for fear of …what? We saw a level of police presence no different than we do in Cincinnati or Boston. (The only “assault style” weapon we saw was in the hands of an airport security guard – in Atlanta.) And we always felt relaxed without any fear of violence. The occasional Cuban might ask for a “donation” on the street, but only a few times in our seven days there.

Ernest Hemingway, 1950-1960’s American automobiles, rum and cigars are all of interest to American tourists. But we were blown away by some of the artwork, music and dancing.

“What we are doing is demanding that the Cuban government respect the basic human rights of their people,” Helen Aguirre Ferre, White House Press Director, said. Trump’s policies restrict visits by Americans that are not related to education and culture. They require a “face-to-face encounter with the people.”

No person subject to US jurisdiction can legally conduct direct financial transactions with approximately 180 business entities and sub-entities, including hotels, travel agencies and shops, because they are run by the Cuban military, intelligence and security services.

The US attempt to restrict individual trips reportedly cost Cuba about US $1.5 billion. The other political changes have resulted in economic losses for Cuba of US $4.3 billion between April 2016 and June 2017, according to the island’s National Institute of Economic Research.

Though the US represents an important tourism demographic for Cuba, its blockades still cause significant economic losses. However, tourism on the island has increased nonetheless. Last year the island broke its record when 4.7 million visitors, with Canada being the country that visits the island the most.

The markets in France, Italy, Spain, Argentina and Brazil have also shown significant growth on the island. However, the most surprising statistic of the year was the growth of Russian tourists to Cuba, which exceeded 100,000 for the first time, with 100,310 visitors as of December 18.

On Day Two we took a peek into one of Hemingway’s favorite haunts, a tiny bar called La Bodeguita El Medio. A small but enthusiastic crowd enjoyed the memorabilia and the three musicians who managed to scrape out just enough floor space and elbow room to actually play their instruments.

After a satisfying siesta we enjoyed fine food and drink at paladare El Cocinero where the Queen of Spain and Beyoncé have dined. Fish tacos and rabbit for me. (I forget what Barbara ordered.) After dinner we visited another Hemingway favorite and today’s tourist draw, Floridita, where we enjoyed a couple of daiquiris and a grovin’ band.

Day Three As always, breakfast was excellent at Casa Odette. Jorge and Daniel then whisked us away to the beautiful land of Viñales…where we were in a depression. Viñales Valley (Spanish: Valle de Viñales) is a karstic depression in Cuba. The valley has an area of 51 sq mi and is located in the Sierra de los Órganos mountains just north of Viñales in the Pinar del Río Province. For more on this World Heritage Site see http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/840

Our accommodations were in the clean, comfortable home of Lourdes and Reynaldo and their daughters. All wonderful people! Sitting on the small terrace enjoying a beautiful view, a good cigar and a Cuba libre…priceless. I must mention that while southern Ohio has lots of turkey vultures, Cuba seems to host 3-4 times as many. Not the prettiest raptors, keeping in mind that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. But I always enjoy seeing them soar and glide with so little effort. They know all about the air currents and seldom even have to flap their wings to stay aloft.

  *** HEADS UP!   FOR MY NEXT POST WHICH WILL BE PHOTOS ONLY ***

Jose Garcia showed us how he hand rolls cigars. After smoking a fresh one I purchased twenty to share with friends in the U.S. Lunch included a scenic vista of the valley and was followed by a visit to Viñales Mural de la Prehistoria, neo-cave art on a macro scale. After dinner we were surprised to find that a couple of venues in this rural, touristy town offered up Tropicana Club style entertainment. Both nights found us dancing and enjoying a show performed by professional dancers and musicians. It was great fun!

Day Four Wednesday we hiked through the valley with Duarte, our guide for the 2-3 hour walk. We encountered a Santeria shrine in the nook of a tree and Duarte explained to us the useful plants, homeopathic remedies, crops and landscape. I was impressed by the changing colors of the earth, especially the shades of yellow and red. All week the weather was sunny with temps in the mid-70s to low 80s. The Caribbean breeze was fairly constant and the climate for sleeping was quite comfortable.

Day Five Thursday morning we said farewell to our fabulous host family and headed toward the planned community of Las Terrazas. Lester Campa welcomed us to his studio and I wish we had the funds to purchase a piece of his art. In a way, Lester Campa, 50, is a political artist, his primary subject the politics of the environment. Mr. Campa lives in Las Terrazas, a planned town built in the 1960’s and 1970’s near the ruins of a coffee plantation in the Sierra del Rosario mountains an hour west of Havana. Las Terrazas is part of an environmental center and botanical garden that specializes in nearly extinct indigenous plants. Being a communist country the entire property is owned and operated by – you guessed it – the Cuban government.

After lunch we hired a guide named Leonardo to take us on a walking tour through the forest, along with Susan and her daughter Tess who are from Arlington, Massachusetts. Afterward Barbara wanted to try the zip line. I had been on one once up in New Paltz NY, but this was a first for Barbara. It was the shorter leg of the lines because they were about to close for the day. We zipped over the lake, climbed another platform and zipped back to another point on the lake shore. “Age limit: from 2 to 80, being not recently operated and not be under the influence of alcohol and not be hypertensive.” I guess I almost qualified, right?

After a one-hour return to Havana we found were invited to a big birthday bash at Casa Odette, honoring her close friends, popular singer-musicians Polito Ibáñez and David Torrens https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rrEbij2drzk They both performed for family and friends on the patio. It was a miraculous evening and so unexpected.

Day Six On Friday we did some shopping for a Polito CD. A few hours at a very beautiful beach. No coral reefs for snorkeling but I did see two lovely little white-silver fish swim past my mask. The lone pelican seemed to be happy diving for sushi. Dinner included vodka martinis! I had a seafood bisque and ground peccadillo – excellent.

Cuban beef picadillo is a traditional dish made with ground beef, potatoes, onions, garlic, cumin, bell peppers, white wine, tomato sauce, raisins, olives and capers.

Day Seven We did a little shopping for rum, cigars and gifts; had lunch at La Vitrola at Plaza Vieja. Back to Casa Odette for a nap, plus a sunset cigar on the balcony with the national beer, Cristal, while watching the vultures soar and glide to their nightly roosts. They float as high as possible to catch the warmth of the setting sun and when that is done they descend from great heights to roost in trees overnight. Dinner at Café Laurent where a solo violinist enhanced our experience by playing a lot of Sinatra. Barbara had lobster (a bit over-cooked and rubbery) and I savored a white fish covered with shrimp and mussels and for dessert a to-die-for chelos de limón. Then on to the Havana Jazz Café, another highlight of our musical adventures in Cuba. 

Day Eight  Easter Sunday seemed like no big deal in this country of saints. We viewed dozens of the old American cars on display, almost all of which are income vehicles aka taxis. After a siesta and dinner we soaked up some of the Buena Vista Social Club’s performance…and some rum.

Day Nine Our final morning in Havana we loved a walking visit through the neighborhood ceramic art project of the “Picasso of Cuba” José Fuster, dubbed “Fusterlandia.” More a mix of Picasso and Gaudi influences really. Amazing tile art, small to huge. We purchased two small paintings.

Later we bid farewell to Jorge and Daniel at the airport and headed to Atlanta…both of us already missing our Cuba experience and agreeing to return and see more of the island.

 


Next: Meet Marc

Next: Meet Marchttps://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marc_Kasowitz


Meet Our Dreamers

View story at Medium.com


Wake Up “Journalists”

JOURNALISTS ARE SO EASILY DISTRACTED

“Only a year ago, candidate Trump presented himself as a social liberal seeking to move the Republican Party left on gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender rights.

He vowed that he would do more than Democrat Hillary Clinton to protect LGBT people. He defended the rights of Caitlyn Jenner, the country’s most well-known transgender advocate, to use whichever bathroom she wanted in Trump Tower. And he added “Q” to his discussion of the “LGBTQ community” in his Republican National Convention speech to show he was in the know.

“People are people to me, and everyone should be protected,” he told The Washington Post in a May 2016 interview.”

https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/its-not-my-thing-a-history-of-trumps-shifting-relationship-with-the-lgbt-community/2017/07/26/92920302-7220-11e7-8f39-eeb7d3a2d304_story.html?utm_term=.816813809fc1

jenner-defends-trump-a

[Alt Fake News]

 


Good read…

Why you should care:  Because institutions and reputations are built over lifetimes but can crumble almost overnight.

The author teaches at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies and was deputy director and acting director of the CIA from 2000 to 2004. Follow him on Twitter: @mclaughlinSAIS.

WHY INTERNATIONAL LEADERSHIP IS SLIPPING THROUGH AMERICA’S HANDS

Amid the many controversies roiling Washington these days, there is a troubling trend that is greater than the sum of the parts: America’s singular leadership role, held with minimal challenge since the end of World War II, is rapidly fading. A man who campaigned on the promise of making America great again now risks doing just the opposite.

The United States’ geopolitical stature is based on much more than military power — although might is one of its foundational components. One by one, the administration is allowing the other elements of leadership, reputational and institutional alike, to slip away. The United States can regain them only if the administration develops a more disciplined communication and policy process — and only if the president comes to understand that giving in to impulsive and fact-challenged anger is the opposite of “presidential.”

The power to inspire was the greatest asset of the U.S., and we fear it’s gone.

On the reputation front, America has been admired for the strength, integrity and stability of its political system — and for the values it has always projected. Now we are seen with a mixture of disillusionment and sorrow. As a European ambassador said to me recently: “The power to inspire was the greatest asset of the U.S., and we fear it’s gone.”

Why is this? It’s pretty simple, really. The world has seen even weak American presidents as embodying the values people associated with America. But the long trail of sloppy, inaccurate or false statements that culminated in President Trump’s labeling of his predecessor as a felon on March 5 signal to the world that they cannot trust what the American president says.

The issue is not academic. I assure most foreigners that we’ll muddle through somehow with domestic issues such as health care and tax reform — despite all the partisan wrangling. But I cannot assure them that the Trump administration can manage an international crisis that requires steadiness, careful coordination, resistance to foolish impulse or anger and the confidence of allies. While the new national security adviser, H. R. McMaster, is well-qualified to inject some discipline into the process, he’s got a steeper hill to climb than any of his predecessors since Watergate in 1974.

The president’s actions are not merely sowing divisions within his Republican Party; they also put serious members in an ethical quandary. It mirrors the ethical danger experienced in authoritarian societies and described by Vaclav Havel, the anticommunist dissident who became free Czechoslovakia’s first president. He said citizens and politicians under authoritarian rule had become “morally ill” because they were forced “to say one thing while thinking another.”

This is surely the dilemma serious Republicans now face, knowing their leader has spoken falsely but searching for ways to not acknowledge that. You can sense their discomfort and hear their resort to political bafflegab. Though there are exceptions — Senator John McCain and a few other truth-tellers — their situation must be challenging.

The president’s actions are not merely sowing divisions within his Republican Party; they also put serious members in an ethical quandary.

Beyond these reputational issues, administration actions are weakening the domestic and international institutions on which American leadership has rested. Driven domestically by sophomoric ideas like “deconstruction” of the “deep state,” the administration has carelessly demeaned the judiciary, the intelligence community and a free media. This hits the rest of the world as worrisome nonsense, not leadership.

Meanwhile, international alliances and institutions that both reflect and sustain American leadership in the world are shaken. To their credit, American officials such as Defense Secretary Mattis, Vice President Pence and Homeland Security Secretary Kelly told world leaders at the Munich Security Conference last month that the U.S. solidly supports its commitments. But all the corridor talk was about whether the president would say the same thing — and mean it.

For decades, American leadership has been marked by the propagation of big ideas. Institutions such as NATO, the EU, the UN, the IMF and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe were all created, inspired or supported by the U.S. The ideas behind them were bold, outward-looking and transformational. Today, we are closing off to the world through talk of walls, travel bans, withdrawal from trade agreements and a massive spending cut (almost 30 percent) proposed for our State Department — the institution most directly responsible for engaging the rest of the world.

Meanwhile, we’re letting China corner the transformational idea market with its creation of the Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank (most of our closest allies have joined), its New Silk Road linking China to Europe and the Middle East and its Comprehensive Regional Economic Partnership. The latter will fill the vacuum the administration left when it hastened to withdraw from the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement.

Some will ask why American leadership matters anyway. Why should America be the standard-bearer for democracy, the rule of law, etc.? After all, we’ve made our mistakes and have often fallen short of our loftiest goals. Perhaps American exceptionalism was a mere fluke of history.

The points are worth raising — and rebutting. After the second World War, the U.S. dedicated itself to leading the world away from the most violent and destructive period in modern human history, and in this it succeeded. It would be hard to overstate the magnitude of its achievement. Two things were key to its success. First, policies that muted whatever part of human nature that permitted the global holocaust of the 20th century. Second, America’s unique blending of self-interest with the pursuit of universally appealing values.

If the administration undervalues the role of American leadership, there are others who will move into the vacuum regionally and globally. Russia, China and Iran come to mind. And the world they want will not be in any way compatible with the vision that has traditionally animated the United States.

author bio image  John McLaughlin, Senior Contributor 


“Everything’s fine right here. Nothing is wrong. Everyone speaks with one voice. We are a family…” — @SaraJBenincasa

Give It a Chance