This week, we’re engaged in a little internet hocus-pocus.
Despite appearances, the staff behind the Cuba Central News Brief are on the beach, not behind our desks. In advance of our trip, we prepared a list of books and articles for you to relax with and read, while we have a chance to do the same.
There’s an old saying, “A lie can travel halfway around the world, while the truth is still lacing up its shoes.” Often attributed to Mark Twain, though ironically the wisdom spilled from someone else’s pen, we thought of this aphorism while reading a news item about TSA! (Yes. That does show we need to get more “vacay.”)
According to Homeland Security Today, the U.S. and Cuba reached an agreement which will allow federal air marshals on board certain flights to and from Cuba. Specifically, “US air marshals will be deployed on some flights between the US and Cuba when commercial air service between the two countries launches on Aug. 31.”
TSA said in a statement, “In the spirit of enhancing the security of international civil aviation, the United States and The Republic of Cuba entered into an aviation security agreement that sets forth the legal framework for the deployment of US in-flight security officers — more commonly known as federal air marshals — on board certain flights to and from Cuba.”
The air marshal agreement reflects the bilateral Memorandum of Understanding signed in February of this year by the two governments. In it, Cuba and the U.S. jointly committed to observing the international conventions that relate to civil aviation security, and pledged to honor “the security provisions required by the other Country for entry into, for departure from, and while within the territory of that other Country and to take adequate measures to protect aircraft and to inspect passengers, crew, and their baggage and carry-on items, as well as cargo and aircraft stores, prior to and during boarding or loading.”
We know that “LPD,” or Last Point of Departure, security is in place at Cuba’s airports. We also know that measures have been in place for decades to protect the security of travelers on the charter flights that currently provide service between the U.S. and Cuba. These are the flights that took nearly 400,000 Cuban Americans to visit the island for family travel, safely and securely in 2015; flights which in total, from Miami alone, took more than 900,000 passengers, including people to people travelers, back and forth to the island. As Martha Pantin, a spokeswoman for American Airlines, told the Miami Herald, “We wouldn’t fly to a place that we don’t think is safe.”
Neither would you. Neither would Cuba, which is depending on tourist revenue to keep its economy going. As Reuters reported recently: Tourism generated $2.8 billion in revenue for Cuba’s government last year.
Which brings us back to the time it takes the truth to lace up its shoes. Since the spring of this year, opponents of the Obama opening in Congress have been fear-mongering the aviation safety issue. Rep. Billy Long (MO-7), a Member of Congress, wrote in one of his local newspapers, “In a time when foreign fighters and radicalized terrorists are growing in number and ambition, we shouldn’t be rushing to open commercial air travel and new LPD airports with a system that practically welcomes those wishing to do America harm.”
In July, his colleague Rep. John Katko (NY-24) introduced legislation, as Homeland Security Today described it, “to prohibit all scheduled commercial air travel between the United States and Cuba until TSA certifies that Cuban airports have the appropriate security measures in place to keep Americans safe.”
Where was this concern before the announcement of the resumption of commercial airline service, when about 5,000 charter flights a year were going to Cuba and back to the U.S. with hundreds of thousands of Cuban Americans flying to visit Cuba thanks to President Obama’s restoration of family travel? Where was the concern when the faithful traveled to the island to baptize Cubans, when scientists traveled over the Florida Strait to collaborate with Cuban counterparts to protect the U.S. coast from potential oil spills, or when students flew to Cuba for semesters of study?
The upcoming reopening of commercial flights will happen. Protective measures are in place. So, the hand-waving about airport security can only be understood as the means to scare off Americans, who can legally travel to Cuba, from doing so. Maybe to reduce Cuba’s revenues as they work to spread fear.
As the Canadian scholar Julie Sagebien wrote recently, tactics like these “are starting to feel like a scorched-earth retreat policy. Perhaps Congressional efforts would be better spent thinking about ways to make this new relationship fruitful, peaceful and long lasting.”
You will be hearing from us next week! Read the rest of this entry »