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Venezuela tourism campaign uses photo of formerly detained Miami reporter

In response, Miami Herald's Jim Wyss tweets: Accident or irony?

Published On: Jan 30 2015 11:27:56 AM EST   Updated On: Jan 30 2015 02:22:25 PM EST
MIAMI -

Jim Wyss was detained in San Cristobal, Venezuela, in 2013. You can imagine his confusion when he spotted a picture that was taken of him at Miami International Airport on a Venezuelan tourism campaign.

The hash tag "We love Venezuela" campaign purports that the South American country "welcomes foreigners as one of their own." But his visit was far from welcoming.

"I was wearing a bulletproof vest, lying flat in the backseat of an unmarked armored car and being escorted by three heavily armed men when I started to worry," Wyss said as he described his experience in a Miami Herald article, after his release.

The National Guard detained him and didn't tell the Miami Herald why. Nor did President Nicolas Maduro, an outspoken critic of the U.S., mention the case. Eventually they handed him over to U.S. Embassy officials.

So when the new advertisement tourism campaign showed him smiling, Wyss wrote on Friday: "The reason I'm so happy is because I'm just getting back to the U.S. after spending 48 hours in detention in Venezuela."

The Miami Herald's Andean bureau chief was in San Cristobal to report on municipal elections -- which were taking place amid an economic crisis marked by shortages of staples such as toilet paper.

At the time Maduro was accusing right-wing agitators and the U.S. government of waging an "economic war" to destabilize his government. However, economists were reporting that only scrapping the decade-old controls imposed by the late Hugo Chavez could curb the sharp slide in the currency's value on the black market.

The TeleSUR TV television network's tourism advertisement was partially right in that Venezuelan journalists also encountered harassment while reporting on the crisis. La Nueva Televisora del Sur, the owner of TeleSUR, is a public company that gets about 50 percent of its funding from the Venezuelan government.

Claudio Paolillo, chairman of a press freedom committee at the Inter American Press Association, said in 2013 he was bewildered by Wyss' detention, calling it a "new demonstration of intolerance by a regime that day after day shows its contempt for the work of journalists."

TeleSUR TV eventually removed Wyss' photo  from their website. But they continued an awkward campaign, with social media shares such as a YouTube video titled "We Love Venezuela Because Its People Wake Up Everyday With A Smile." Except perhaps for Mary Noriega, a laboratory assistant who recently told The New York Times' William Neuman that she hated when soldiers herded her "like cattle," while she waited in a line of more than 1,500 people hoping to get groceries in Caracas.

8 senators unveil proposed legislation lifting restrictions on tourism to Cuba

Hearings on Cuba are scheduled for next week in both the House and Senate

Published On: Jan 29 2015 12:10:40 PM EST   Updated On: Jan 29 2015 11:50:00 PM EST

First legislation introduced would lift travel ban for all Americans

THAT OFFICER SAYS SHE DOESN'T THINK SHE WAS PERSONALLY TARGETED. THE FIRST LEGISLATION HAS BEEN INTRODUCED THAT WOULD LIFT THE TRAVEL BAN FOR ALL-AMERICANS BUT SOME ARE NOT TOO HAPPY ABOUT IT, LOCAL 10 LIVE NOW AT THE FREEDOM TOWER IN MIAMI DOWNTOWN. TO EXPLAIN FOR US, HATZEL. ON ONE SIDE YOU HAVE A BIPARTISAN GROUP THAT SAYS THIS ISN'T GOING TO CHANGE OVERNIGHT, BUT IT DOES SET THE STAGE, AND ON THE OTHER SIDE YOU HAVE THE COMMUNITY THAT SAYS THIS IS ONLY ENRICHING THE GOVERNMENT. THEY ARE CHANGED FOR FREEDOM IN CUBA. AND THEIR SUPPORTERS APPROPRIATELY CIRCLED AROUND THE BAY OF PIGS MEMORIAL. TONIGHT, THEY WORRY NOTHING WILL CHANGE ON THE ISLAND. THE TRUE NATURE OF THE REGIME DOES NOT CHANGE, YOU CANNOT CHANGE A REPRESSIVE TELLTALE TIN REGIME. OUTLINED DEND MAS AMONG THEM, THE END TO THE EMBARGO, AND RETURNING THE LAND WHERE THE NAVAL BASE IS LOCATED. IS IT THE PRESIDENT'S INTENTION WHEN HE DOES CROW THE FACILITY TO GIVE BACK THE ACTUAL TERRITORY TO CUBA. NO. ON THE TRAVEL FRONT A GROUP OF SENATORS SAY THEY PLAN TO INTRODUCE LEGISLATION THAT WOULD ALLOW ALL-AMERICANS TO TRAVEL TO CUBA. WE ARE SAYING THAT AMERICANS SHOULD BE ALLOWED TO HAVE THE RIGHT TO TRAVEL WHEREVER THEY WOULD LIKE TO URGE LESS THERE'S A COMPELLING NATIONAL SECURITY REASON. THEY ACKNOWLEDGE LIFTING THE TRAVEL BAN WON'T BRING DEMOCRACY, BUT IT LIGHTLY SETS CONDITIONS FOR DEMOCRACY SOONER. LAST YEAR HALF A MILLION TRAVELS LEGALLY, MOST WERE CUBAN AMERICANS VISITING FAMILY, THE RESTS WERE AMERICANS TRAVELING WITH LICENSE COMPANIED UNDER 12 CATEGORIES LIFTING THE TRAVEL BAN COULD SPELL TROUBLE FOR THE TRAVEL AGENCIES WHICH MAKE MONEY ON TRAVEL TO CUBA. 80% OF MY BUSINESS IS THE SITE. SO WE WOULD HAVE TO REINVENT OURSELVES. THERE WILL ALWAYS BE A NEED FOR CHARTERS AS THERE ARE TO OTHER DESTINATIONS SO WE WILL JUST HAVE TO ADAPT. TONIGHT, THIS FROM CONGRESSMAN, IN A STATEMENT HE SAYS AND I QUOTE HERE, THE VAST MAJORITY OF CONGRESS CONTINUES TO SUPPORT SANCTIONS AGAINST THE CASTRO REGIME, ON TO ALL POLITICAL PRISONERS ARE FREE, BASIC HUMAN AND CIVIL RIGHTS WILL RESTORED AND FREE AND DEMOCRATIC ELECTIONS ARE HELD. MARIO DIAZ ALSO SAYING THAT HE SAYS THERE'S LITTLE HOPE FOR THIS BILL TO BECOME A LAW.

WASHINGTON -

In the first effort from Congress to end the embargo against Cuba since President Barack Obama started to lobby against it, a bipartisan group of senators unveiled legislation Thursday that would allow U.S. citizens to vacation in Cuba.

Under Obama's new rules, tourism remains prohibited and only congressional action can lift the embargo. U.S. citizens are allowed to travel to Cuban only if they fit one of the 12 approved categories, which include educational and humanitarian trips.

If the Freedom to Travel to Cuba Act of 2015 passes, tourists would be able to just book their flights and hotels legally online.

"The exchange of ideas and values via people-to-people travel can have a far greater, positive impact than the decades-old failed policy of isolation,” the bill proposal's summary says.

The eight senators -- half Republicans and half Democrats -- backing the lift of the tourism ban are Jeff Flake, of Arizona; Jerry Moran, of Kansas; Michael Enzi, of Wyoming; John Boozman, of Arkansas; Patrick Leahy, of Vermont; Richard Durbin, of Illinois; Tom Udall, of New Mexico and Sheldon Whitehouse, of Rhode Island.

"We have tried this current policy that we have prohibiting travel for about 50 years, and it hasn't worked, so it's time for something new," Flake said. "It's time to allow Americans to travel freely to Cuba."

In the U.S. House of Representatives, Republican Rep. Mark Sanford and Democrat Rep. Jim McGovern plan to introduce a similar bill next week. The legislation would also allow tourism-related banking transactions.

"It makes no sense to have this prohibition," Leahy said.

HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH: Read the 2015 report on Cuba

OPPOSITION TO THE PROCESS

Former political prisoners stage protest

MORE ABOUT THAT IN A FEW. Calvin Hughes: LIVE PICTURES FROM RIEL HAVANA WHERE NORMAN CUBAN HAVE WRAPPED THEMSELVES IN CHAINS TO SHOW THEIR OPPOSITION TWO RELATIONS BETWEEN THE U.S. AND CUBA. THEIR DEMONSTRATION COMES A DAY

Those dreaming of walking the streets of Old Havana to enjoy the pastel-colored Spanish Colonial architecture and ride a 50s classic convertible near the sea-front wall, shouldn't pack their bags yet.

There is plenty of opposition in Capitol Hill. A Feb. 4,2009 attempt at similar legislation with the same name was buried. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker John Boehner have been critical of the idea.

Rep. Ileana Rosh-Lehtinen has fiercely voiced her opposition every day since Castro and Obama announced they would move toward repairing the relationship Dec. 17. When Obama issued new rules to relax the embargo and delegations from both countries met for historic negotiations in Havana last week, Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart was outraged.

The change in policy defies Sen. Marco Rubio and other Cuban-Americans who support the embargo and fear that U.S. tourism will strengthen the repressive Castro regime and hurt dissenters.

With a bit of mistrust, Fidel Castro approved. "El Che" Guevara's daughter said that if her father was alive, he would too approve of the talks. The sole mention of their names can still be explosive in Miami's Little Havana.

The Wednesday announcement of the lawmakers' plan to unveil the bill came hours after Cuban President Raul Castro mentioned his list of demands during a speech in front of Latin American heads of state attending a summit in San Jose, Costa Rica.

The younger Castro warned during his speech that there were "certain forces" that wanted to slow the process of re-establishing relations,as Rubio announced he was named chairman of a subcommittee that will be discussing the effects of the new policy in February.

PREPARING FOR CHANGE

Cubans show off their classic American cars as national treasure

Cruise line executives have been looking into the possibility for years. Outside of the political arena, most of the business sector seems convinced of an impending wave of U.S. tourism arriving to the island -- only 90 miles south of Key West.

Kayak, a U.S. travel search engine, recently added booking links for Cuba-related hotels and flights searches. Even a Chef is planning a culinary tour.

Mastercard plans to lift the ban on transactions in Cuba March 1. And American Express is preparing to do the same.

Airline executives from American Airlines, Delta Airlines, United Airlines, Southwest Airlines and JetBlue were preparing to add more flights to Cuba from Miami International Airport.

In Cuba, the unofficial tourist guides known as "Jineteros" expect good times. Like hustlers, they make their money from wrestling tips, selling counterfeit goods, drugs and sometimes from prostitution.

There is fear among some tourism industry experts, who are concerned that the current infrastructure won't be able to keep up. Old plumbing, air conditioners, washcloths, taxi cabs and Wi-Fi can be unreliable.

Despite the quality, hotel rates are not cheap and the rates of those that meet international standards may go up. Restored family-run colonial guest houses will remain the best options since they will benefit the island's private sector.

The Varadero beach resort, about 80 miles east of Havana, continues to be the island's high-end destination. But for those who want to reminisce of Havana's glamorous days and can afford a presidential suite with really old furniture for at least $1,080 a night,  The 1930 Hotel Nacional de Cuba remains the great pearl.

Local 10 News will be following the Congressional hearings on Cuba policy that are scheduled for next week.

Airlines prepares to add more flights from Miami International Airport to Cuba

Delta Air Lines, United Airlines and JetBlue Airways have also expressed interest in adding flights to Cuba

Published On: Jan 29 2015 10:04:41 AM EST   Updated On: Jan 29 2015 10:05:46 AM EST

From American Airlines

MIAMI -

Add American Airlines to the list of carriers that want to take you to Cuba.

An airline executive said Tuesday that American already operates about 20 charter flights a week to Cuba and would like to add regular flights from Miami International Airport.

"We will be anxious to start serving Cuba as soon as it's legally allowed," the airline's president, Scott Kirby, said on a conference call with analysts and reporters, "but

Delta Air Lines, United Airlines and JetBlue Airways have expressed interest since President Barack Obama announced last month that the U.S. would establish diplomatic relations and expand trade and tourism with Cuba.

Southwest Airlines CEO Gary Kelly said last week that his airline is interested too, although he said Southwest has 50 potential destinations beyond the U.S. mainland, and Cuba "will just be one more."

New U.S. government rules issued this month relaxed travel restrictions that have stood for 54 years since the communist revolution in Cuba. Licenses are no longer required, but trips are limited to 12 categories including visiting close relatives, humanitarian missions and educational tours. Tourism is not an approved reason to visit - yet.

JetBlue and Sun Country also offer charter flights to the island.

Also on Tuesday, American Express Co. said it will start doing business in Cuba after the Obama administration lifted a ban on U.S. banks and credit card companies operating on the island. The New York company did not say when people could use American Express cards in Cuba, where it currently has no terminals set up or merchant relationships.

MasterCard Inc. last week became the first major U.S. credit card company to say it would start handling U.S. card transactions in Cuba. Visa Inc. did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Tuesday.

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