Category Archives: Travel

FREEDOM FIGHTER “The Night Will Not Be Eternal” by Oswaldo Paya Released

Oswaldo Paya

EFE, via 14ymedio, Miami, 3 July 2018 — With the title “The Night Will Not Be Eternal,” an unpublished book by the late Cuban dissident Oswaldo Paya, with proposals for Cubans to emerge from their situation, will go on sale on Amazon this July 5 before its presentation in Miami.

Rosa Maria Paya, daughter of the dissident who died in 2012, said that on July 25 the book will be presented in the Varela room of Ermita de la Caridad, where the Cuban exile received her father in 2002, after he received the Sakharov prize.

The book, subtitled “Dangers and Hopes for Cuba,” has a preface by Paya’s widow, Ofelia Acevedo, and its purpose, as explained by its author, is none other than “to help to discover that we can, indeed, live through the process of liberation and reconciliation and move into the future in peace.”

“In this book my father reflects on how and why we Cubans have come to this point in history and how we can emerge from it,” says Rosa Maria Paya, director of the Cuba Decides movement which promotes holding a plebiscite so that the Cuban people can decide what political system they want for their country.  “A process of liberation is possible,” says the dissident about what her father left in writing before being “assasinated,” in her words.

The family of Paya, founder of the Christian Liberation Movement in 1988, asserts that the car crash in which he and dissident Harold Cepero also died on July 22, 2012, was caused by agents of the Castro regime.

Rosa Maria Paya says that that same year her father asked her mother and her to remind him that he had to make time for the book that now is going on the market at 282 pages. After the epilogue, the book includes the most important political documents of his organization Proyecto Varela (The Varela Project).

The message of “The Night Will Not Be Eternal” is now even more current than when when it was written, says the author’s daugther, for whom reading this book is like listening to her father speak.

Paya begins by explaining his “intention” in writing this book, in which he reflects on, among other things, “de-Christianization,” “the culture of fear” and the “assault on the family,” but also on education, economics, corruptions, social classes and the “hour of change” in Cuba.

The last part is dedicated to reconciliation.  The epilogue significantly is entitled “We Must Dream.”

In the prologue, Ofelia Acevedo says that Oswaldo Paya enjoyed his work as an electrical engineer, but his “true vocation” was the “unending search for peaceful paths that will permit Cubans to win the fundamental rights that have been denied us by the Castro dictatorship.”

“Hence, the strength of his leadership, which conveyed confidence, security and optimism to those who listened to him, giving us a new hope,” says his widow.

Acevedo emphasizes that in this book Oswaldo Paya invites us to “look to the future with confidence, to keep hope alive, to realize that by ourselves we can leave the apathy where the Cuban dictatorship wants to see us sunk.”

Translated by Mary Lou Keel

Thugs And Oppressors Hiding In The U.S. Why Are They Not Being Arrested?

Criminal In Plain Sight

For years, we have known more than just a few Castro regime State Security thugs have left Cuba and are now living in the U.S. In Cuba, these thugs harassed and violently assaulted dissidents and regular Cubans in the service of the apartheid Castro regime. But upon their arrival here in the U.S., they leave out any mention of their past activities as agents of the regime in their asylum applications and hope no one here recognizes them.

Occasionally, one or two are found out and they scurry into hiding like a cockroaches do when you turn on the lights. However, many of them have been living in the U.S. and even in Miami for years in complete anonymity with no one knowing about their sordid past and crimes against humanity.

Their days of hiding among their victims may be numbered, though. The Foundation for Human Rights in Cuba is working to expose these criminals hiding among us.

Nora Gamez Torres reports in The Miami Herald:

Exile group targets alleged human-rights abusers in Cuba living in South Florida

A Cuban exile group is forwarding complaints to federal authorities about alleged human-rights violators in Cuba who now live in the United States, with the goal of deporting people who participated in acts of violence and harassment on the island.

The idea behind the project is not to launch “a witch hunt” but “to change the focus of the victims” to those who are guilty of repression, and to give a response to those who have said they have seen people in South Florida who harassed or mistreated them in Cuba, Juan Antonio Blanco, director of the Foundation for Human Rights in Cuba, told el Nuevo Herald.

Blanco said he had given information about several cases to an investigations unit in Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

Since it was created in 2004, ICE has deported more than 590 people who committed human-rights violations in other countries or who are suspected of having done so.

According to Blanco, members of the ICE unit “are willing to expand the range and take a look at these cases. It is not that they are going to investigate crimes committed in other countries, but they can review the immigration files of these people, who would not have been accepted into the country if they had told the truth.”

“People who have lied to the authorities have committed a federal crime,” which could end in jail sentences, fines or deportation, Blanco said.

During a press conference on Thursday, the group released the names of two alleged human-rights violators who now live in Tampa and Gainesville and who were identified by several people in affidavits in Mexico, Chile and the United States.

According to a copy of the affidavits obtained by el Nuevo Herald, one of the accused men was a police officer in Cárdenas, in the province of Matanzas, and allegedly sexually harassed one of the complainants and fabricated charges to imprison her.

Two other people accuse the same man of being “one of the most repressive officers of the mid-80s to the ’90s” and of carrying out “hundreds of arbitrary detentions, [and] beatings.”

by Alberto de la Cruz

German Government – BDS Movement is Racist

Jbds-swastikaThe anti-Israel boycott movement is a “new variation of anti-Semitism: anti-Zionist anti-Semitism,” a German intelligence agency concluded.

By: Max Gelber

A German intelligence agency has deemed the anti- Israel BDS movement (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) anti-Semitic, saying it is a “new variation of anti-Semitism: anti-Zionist anti-Semitism.”

The Jerusalem Post reported on Thursday that the state of Baden-Württemberg’s intelligence agency, in its May report, wrote that propaganda by the neo-Nazi party Der Dritte Weg (The Third Way) urging boycotts of Israeli products “roughly recalls similar measures against German Jews by the National Socialists, for example, on April 1 1933” when the Nazis used the slogan “Germans! Defend yourselves! Don’t buy from Jews!”

The neo-Nazi organization called Israel a “terror state” and the “Zionist abscess.” The report showed a graphic used by the Third Way showing a Palestinian flag with the words “Freedom for Palestine” over a person whose mouth is covered with an Israeli flag.

Another graphic read “Boycott products from Israel: 729 = Made in Israel,” which refers to the bar code number “729,” an identifier of Israeli-made goods.

Established in 2013 with the participation of former officials of the far-right National Democratic Party and activists affiliated with the Freies Netz Süd (Free Network South), which was banned in 2014, Der Dritte Weg is comprised of radical ethnic nationalists.

The party describes its members as the “conscious neo-Nazi elite,” with the majority classified as very violent.

Party members traveled to Lebanon in March 2017 and lauded Hezbollah’s 2006 war against Israel.

The Third Way’s web page calls for support of convicted Holocaust-denier Horst Mahler.

Labeling BDS as anti-Semitic could have far-reaching consequences for German politicians and organizations that engage in pro-BDS activity, the Jerusalem Post reported.

This is believed to be the first time that a German domestic intelligence agency has labeled BDS as anti-Semitic and a security threat, while German political bodies and politicians at various levels have already recognized BDS for what it really is.

In August, Frankfurt became the first German city to pass a bill outlawing municipal funding for the BDS movement’s activities.

In May 2017, Germany’s Social Democratic Party (SPD) passed a resolution in support of Israel, condemning BDS as anti-Semitic.

In December 2016, German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party announced the passing of a resolution declaring BDS anti-Semitic.

The BDS movement promotes financial, academic and cultural boycotts against Israel, ostensibly as a nonviolent struggle against the so-called “Israeli occupation.”

Critics say its activities are a modern form of anti-Semitism and that its true objective is to destroy the State of Israel.

New Scientific Study: Causes Of Poverty In The World IT’S NOT WHAT YOU THINK

Communism leads to despair, poverty, hunger, and death. For a century now, they have experienced firsthand the destructive power of communism that demolishes economies, kills and maims the people, and pushes everyone into misery and poverty.

Nevertheless, when it comes to scourge that is communism, we can now say the science is settled.

Via The Sun:

Communism makes countries poorer and less healthy for decades, scientists prove in landmark study

Researchers testing historical connections between cultures found if a country had been under communism was the biggest factor for those with lower health, income and educational levels

LIVING under communism makes countries poorer and less healthy for decades, according to scientists publishing a landmark new study.

Researchers testing historical connections between cultures found that whether a country had been under communism was the biggest factor for those with lower health, income and educational levels.

In the first undertaking of its kind, they analysed the fortunes of 44 countries across Europe and Asia and looked at geography, faith, systems of government and a more intangible quality called “deep cultural ancestry”

Writing in the journal Royal Society Open Science they matched these factors against where they ranked on the United Nations Human Development Index, which measures per capita income, life expectancy at birth and the number of years its citizens spend in education.

Most of the issues they looked at appeared to have little or no effect on the disparities between the countries, except for Islamic countries scoring a little worse on education.

Instead, the single strongest predictor for a country’s health, and the second strongest for its wealth turned out to be whether its rulers had embraced communism.

TRAVEL ALERT: Travel Sites Didn’t Share Risks With Those Booking Travel To Mexico Resorts

Mexico Travel Warning

They didn’t know.

Their travel agents didn’t warn them.

They didn’t find signs of trouble on TripAdvisor or government websites.

And nothing on Apple Vacations, Cheap Caribbean, Expedia, Transat or other popular booking websites suggested potential danger. Instead, images of sunshine, margaritas and bikinis on the beach splashed seductively across their computer screens, portraying business as usual in Mexico’s Riviera Maya.

But there was nothing usual about what happened when Chelsea Keith ordered room service before bed on Jan. 18 at the BlueBay Grand Esmeralda.

Nor when Jason Enwere hailed a cab from Playa del Carmen back to the resort where he was staying in February with his younger brother and mom to celebrate her 50th birthday.

They and dozens of other tourists from the U.S. and Canada were traumatized by recent encounters — ranging from blacking out after a couple of drinks to robberies, sexual assaults, drownings and deaths of loved ones — while visiting all-inclusive luxury resorts and nearby tourist areas of Mexico.

Travelers were repeatedly reporting such incidents to U.S. and Canadian consular agencies, as well as to the resorts, tour operators such as Apple Vacations, and their local travel agents. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel has heard from more than 170 tourists who described their troubles in Mexico, the vast majority within the past two years.

But the travel industry didn’t share the information with the next vacationers booking trips, a Journal Sentinel investigation has found.

Had the governments and industry been doing their jobs, the tourists should have been told, according to well-established case law.

Though few travelers know it, travel agents and companies have a legal obligation to inform their customers of known risks.

“I can’t believe that the tourism industry in the United States and Mexico had me deceived,” wrote Seattle-area mom, Trish Bozich, in a March 17, 2016, email to the U.S. consulate.

“Shame on me for being the naïve parent.”

Jason Enwere of Toronto was robbed and severely beaten by a taxi driver and passenger after he hailed a cab back to the all-inclusive resort where he was staying in Mexico in February 2018. (Photo: Courtesy of Jason Enwere)

Bozich’s 19-year-old son had been robbed and was found unconscious in a ditch and taken to jail in Cancun while there for spring break. The police required Bozich to wire them $300 before they would release him. They held him in the jail for hours with no water and heckled and threatened him, Bozich said.

“Parents NEED this information so that they can make an informed decision BEFORE they press ‘purchase’ on that Expedia package to Mexico for their college student,” her email said.

In an ongoing investigation, the Journal Sentinel has uncovered a barrage of terrifying experiences vacationers have had while staying in all-inclusive luxury resorts and visiting nearby tourist areas.

In most of the cases, the incidents ran contrary to the conventional wisdom offered to tourists by travel agents selling trips to Mexico: Just stay on the resort and in the tourist areas. You’re safe there.

The travelers told the Journal Sentinel they were following the rules. They weren’t drinking too much, wearing expensive jewelry or flashing cash. They didn’t go out looking for drugs. And the few that left the resorts went to the popular tourist stretch of Playa del Carmen to shop, dine or dance and paid close attention to their surroundings.

The victims were young and old, male and female. In some cases they blacked out in pairs — tall, hefty men losing consciousness at the same time as their petite wives, half their weight.

They never expected they would black out after a couple of drinks, get abducted from their luxury hotel room, or robbed and beaten nearly to death in a taxi. They didn’t realize they would be met with hostility from resort staff, police and hospital workers when they sought help.

The Journal Sentinel confirmed the reports through interviews, receipts, hospital and police records, photographs, court documents and other research.

Last May, Jennifer Drinkwine, her husband, and their three kids traveled from Colorado to the Iberostar Paraiso del Mar, the same resort where — just four months earlier — 20-year-old Abbey Conner of Pewaukee, Wis., drowned in the pool under suspicious circumstances.

Drinkwine’s 19-year-old son drank a beer with dinner one night, then the family went to the resort club to listen to music. He did not order anything to drink. After a short time the rest of the family was ready to head for bed; their son wanted to stay.

Back in the room less than 45 minutes later, Drinkwine got a strange sense that something was wrong. She dialed her son. When he answered, she did not recognize his voice. He was slurring his words and not making sense. She raced back to the club and found him in a corner, incoherent. An empty shot glass on the table in front of him. His eyes were rolling back in his head, his pulse weakening. He couldn’t walk.

“We thought we were going to lose him,” said Drinkwine.

At the hospital, doctors said he was intoxicated. Medical records reviewed by the Journal Sentinelshow his blood-alcohol content was 0.02 percent, well below any scientific definition of intoxication. He stayed at the hospital for about eight hours and slowly recovered. He recalled drinking just one shot. He didn’t know what it was.

“My travel agent and Apple Vacations made it seem like it was my son’s fault for drinking too much,” Drinkwine said. “There was no advisory, warning, story or mention from our travel agent of any risks.”

A ‘duty to warn’

Courts in both the United States and Canada have established that purveyors of travel have a “duty to inform,” or “duty to warn,” about all sorts of conditions in travel destinations.

If you book a June trip to Southeast Asia and your travel agent doesn’t mention it’s rainy season, experts say, they can be held responsible. Same goes for serious dangers such as outbreaks of Zika virus or civil unrest.

While travel sellers are not guarantors of safety, the courts have ruled they can be held liable for “failure to warn” if an injured party can prove an agent knew — or should have known — about the risk but did not disclose it.

“They are expected to have a certain level of expertise,” said Ken Whitman, senior program manager with Aon, which insures more than 6,000 travel-related companies. “Duty to warn is a theme that runs throughout the whole industry.

“If you’re going to an area that is crime infested, the agent needs to say ‘You need to beware.’ ”

Same resort, multiple incidents

Chelsea Keith was hungry. She had gone to her room at the BlueBay Grand Esmeralda ahead of her boyfriend and another friend around 1 a.m. to order room service. The quesadilla on the menu sounded good, so she dialed the restaurant. The man on the phone double checked, just one? Yes, she said, just one.

He said it would be about 30 minutes. She got in the shower and had just stepped out when she heard a knock on the door. She threw on her night clothes, but before she could get to the door, it opened and the delivery man was inside her room.

She told him he didn’t need to come in and tried to take the tray from him. He insisted on setting it on the dresser, then told her to come sign the receipt. As she was signing her name, he grabbed her and threw her to the bed. He said vulgar things and started touching and licking her over much of her body.

“The best way I can describe it was like a ravaging dog, just trying to get anything he could get,” said Keith, 31, of  Winnipeg, Manitoba.

The man was about 5’7” with a medium build and looked to be in his late 20s, Keith said.

Dec. 15: State Department says it has begun tracking Mexico alcohol-related blackout incidents

Dec. 13: Mexico blackouts, injuries and deaths at resorts spark investigation of State Department

Adrenaline kicked in. She fought back. Being 5’10”, strong and athletic, she was able to push him off and hurl him toward the door. As the struggle continued, her boyfriend and another friend arrived. The man ran off.

“This was my first time out of Canada,” Keith said. “I was always told when you’re on the resort, you’re safe.”

Keith’s trip was booked with Transat, a Canadian-based tour operator that provides vacation packages that include airfare, ground transportation to and from the airport as well as the cost of the resort. The only advice a representative offered was when they arrived and got on the shuttle bus from the airport to the hotel. The driver told them not to pay full price at the shops. They should bargain, the driver said. Not one mention of safety precautions.

Keith tried to get resort workers to call the police, but they refused. When she and her boyfriend called the police themselves, officers never came. Instead, when the couple woke up the next morning, there was a resort worker standing in their room looking at them.

They yelled for him to get out and called Transat. The company moved them to another resort that day.

Interactive: The victims

Investigation: Mexico resorts investigation

Keith didn’t know that just a few weeks earlier, a woman from Peterborough, Ontario, reported that her 22-year-old daughter had been drugged at the same resort and abducted from their room.

Or that several months earlier, in July 2017, a 47-year-old woman reported that her glass of champagne — the only alcohol she had that night — had been spiked. She immediately became woozy and disoriented and went to the hospital.

Records show both women had complained to BlueBay Grand Esmeralda, the Canadian consulate as well as Transat or other partner companies.

The responses both received sounded boilerplate.

“We sincerely appreciate the time and effort you spent on writing and forwarding us your comments with regards to your stay here with us at the BlueBay Grand Esmeralda, without a doubt they will contribute to the constant improvements of our services offered and guarantee that we will share and discuss this situation in our meeting board this week and take the necessary steps to avoid in our resort any of the situations mentioned in your comments,” the manager on duty, Alonzo Avila, wrote in an Aug. 1, 2017, email to Lynn Nugent, the 47-year-old from Ontario.

And from the Canadian government to Karen Newton, the mother of the 22-year-old abducted from their hotel room:

“Thank you for contacting Travelalerts.ca,” the agency responded in a Jan. 2 email. “We appreciate the time you have taken to write us. An agent will respond to your inquiry shortly.”

Nobody did. When Newton contacted them again in February, she got a similar response.

“I am very sorry to hear about these very troubling events which unfolded during your vacation in Mexico,” wrote a representative of Global Affairs Canada, the equivalent of the U.S. State Department. “Please be advised that I will share your concerns with the Case Management Officer responsible for Mexico.”

That was it.

Travel agents and tour operators continued to book BlueBay Grand Esmeralda with no warning on their websites.

A month after Keith’s visit, another woman reported experiencing a blackout at the same resort. She contacted the Journal Sentinel last month, describing how she ordered a margarita while waiting to check into her room, then went to lunch and ordered a second one. That’s the last thing she remembered. She regained consciousness seven hours later in bed with no recollection of how she got there or of anything beyond sitting down for lunch.

When asked by the Journal Sentinel what Transat is doing to inform travelers of risks in Mexico and in response to reports that tourists have complained to Transat that they were not made aware of the dangers, spokeswoman Debbie Cabana wrote that Transat had “taken note” of some of the recent events.

“All our operations remain business as usual and we are closely monitoring the evolution of the situation,” Cabana wrote.

She said Transat would allow change requests for customers seeking to cancel or modify their travel plans.

For Keith, Nugent and Newton, there’s been no recourse.

“I may be jaded, but it feels as if there’s an agreement between the two countries to keep it low key … at the expense of future victims,” Newton said of Mexico and Canada. “Our governments should be held responsible for ensuring that tourists are made aware and properly educated on what’s really happening out there.”

Information lacking

Tourists to Mexico had been reporting suspected druggings and injuries repeatedly — alerting resorts, tour operators and consular affairs offices. But the U.S. State Department wasn’t tracking the cases. The agency only began tracking the numbers in the last several months since the Journal Sentinel began exposing problems. They’ve since received 20 reports of injuries tied to suspected tainted alcohol.

Department officials wouldn’t share any details about the incidents — when, where or what happened — with the Journal Sentinel, citing privacy reasons. Nor do they share the information with travel agencies.

When the Journal Sentinel asked the tour operators and representatives of the American Society of Travel Agents, an industry trade association, how they gather data and share the information so members can pass it along to travelers, they pointed back to the U.S. State Department, citing it as a major source of their information.

In one case, a representative from Apple Vacations told a worried man inquiring about tainted alcohol and sexual assaults at a Mexican resort that he would have to contact officials in Mexico himself.

Nov. 1: TripAdvisor removed warnings about rapes and injuries at Mexico resorts, tourists say

“There is no running list of occurrences in any resort that would identify reported incidents in location. If you would like to pursue specifics to any reported incidents you would need to reach out to the local authorities in the area and submit the question to them, in turn they may need you to fill out the proper documentation to receive information in regards to a single incident and or location,” the agent, whose name was only signed, “Finn,” wrote in a Nov. 1, 2017, email to customer Joe Pesce, of suburban Philadelphia. “Details such as you are asking for are not available to the general public including ourselves …”

The Apple Vacations representative then referred Pesce to TripAdvisor, suggesting that website would be a good resource.

On the same day of the email, a story was published exposing how TripAdvisor had been deleting travelers’ stories of rapes, assaults and other troubling incidents.

“We don’t think the best source of data for this is our reviews, but rather law enforcement or the hotels themselves. … We always recommend travelers keep an eye on travel advisories and visit the State Department website for the most up to date information.”

Victoria Cagliero, a spokeswoman for Expedia

Pennsylvania-based Apple Vacations is a classic tour operator, offering package deals to Mexico and the Caribbean that typically include non-stop flights, ground transportation and week-long stays at all-inclusive resorts.

What travelers may not know is that the company is a subsidiary of Apple Leisure Group. Apple Leisure Group is the parent company of Cheap Caribbean, AMResorts and AmStar.

The key to these connections? AMResorts operates Dreams, Secrets, Sunscape, Now, Breathless and Zoetry resorts. As of January, the company had 29 resorts in Mexico.

Those resorts often top the list of search results when travelers seek vacation packages to Mexico on Apple Vacations’ website.

As for Amstar, that company provides destination management services. So when people who were injured at any of these resorts, their complaints got channeled through a web of Apple Leisure Group subsidiaries.

Apple Leisure Group advertises itself as “the nation’s top seller of all-inclusive vacation packages” and suggests it holds “a unique niche in the U.S. travel industry” leveraging six industries.

Yet Apple Leisure Group and Apple Vacations refuse to release injury and death data of guests to their affiliated properties — or the many other properties, such as Iberostar, that they partner with.

Prior to Abbey Conner’s death at the Iberostar — which prompted the Journal Sentinel’s initial investigation —  at least three women had previously reported to the resort, the U.S. consular agency and tour operators they had been sexually assaulted at the same resort complex. Two were attacked by workers in security uniforms.

Aug. 2: Cancun crime wave threatens tourist mecca

July 26: State Department warns tourists about Mexico tainted alcohol after blackouts reported

The Journal Sentinel has received more than 20 reports about blackouts and injuries at Iberostar resorts in Mexico.

Still, Apple Vacations continues to book tourists at the resorts without any specific warnings about crimes or problems at Iberostar properties on its website. And officials with Apple Vacations won’t say how — or if — it tracks injuries and deaths there, or at any other partner hotels.

“Should an incident occur, it is most often resolved on site by the hotels and resorts themselves,” said spokesman Josh Kahn. “As such, Apple Vacations does not receive weekly, monthly or regularly scheduled incident reports from the properties in our portfolio. That said, we are in regular communication with all of our partners in the region on a variety of issues pertaining to visitor safety and satisfaction.”

In a 2009 court deposition after the drowning death of Boston native Nolan Webster, 22, at the Grand Oasis in Cancun, a senior executive of Apple Vacations, Tim Mullen, said the company did collect weekly incident reports.

In other testimony, an Amstar employee said the two companies communicated about accidents and incidents.

The company was aware of Webster’s death and the many witness accounts saying resort staff had prevented a Canadian nurse from performing CPR on Webster.

Yet no alerts or warnings were issued.

In another deposition in the same case, Apple Vacation’s CFO, Julia Davidson, said the company does not consider safety factors when selecting and rating partner properties.

“Does anyone at Apple Vacations do any type of investigation of the resort before saying, OK, we are going to consider this resort one of our resorts that we send our clients to?” an attorney for Webster’s mother, Maureen Webster, asked.

“We don’t do inspections or investigations,” Davidson answered. “We don’t have trained building inspectors. We don’t have safety inspectors.”

Davidson said it’s not the company’s responsibility to warn travelers about all the possible risks including crime statistics or the lack of lifeguards at pools with swim-up bars.

“We can’t begin to imagine all the things that could happen to someone conceptually or begin to warn them about all of the things that might happen,” she said.

The questioning continued:

Attorney: “And, in fact, do you believe that your responsibility ends when you book the trip as a tour operator and that you don’t have to worry about the safety at the resort for your customers at all?”

Davidson: “I have no control over the safety at the resort.”

Attorney: “Do you believe that a tour operator has a responsibility to prospectively look at the resort to which it offers its customers to determine if there are any safety issues?”

Davidson: “No, I do not believe that and the law does not put us in that position to the best of my knowledge.”

Maureen Webster later launched a website — mexicovacationawareness.com — to warn travelers about the many serious risks pervading the tourism industry in Mexico.

Karen Smith came across the website six years later. But it was too late. Her 38-year-old son, Brian Manucci of New Jersey, had already drowned in the same, crowded resort pool. Smith said she encountered the same indifferent, unhelpful response from the resort.

“It would never occur to me — and I suppose potential travelers — that a tour operator would promote a resort where they have first-hand information of potential dangers,” Smith said.

“The best way I can describe it was like a ravaging dog, just trying to get anything he could get.”

Chelsea Keith, about delivery man who attacked her in her room

On March 26, at least 14 visitors to Dreams Playa Mujeres — an AMResorts property in Cancun — reported to management and online their fear stemming from a shootout on the beach in front of the resort that day, according to postings on TripAdvisor and interviews with travelers who were there.

One man was on the beach with his grade-school-age daughter when gunfire erupted beside him. His wife and other children were at the pool.

“Bullets were flying, people came running into the hotel and resort staff just seemed to go on with life,” the man’s wife told the Journal Sentinel. The family did not want their names or any identifying information about them published out of fear for their safety.

Little to no information was shared with guests. There was no assurance of beefed up security. And within about 45 minutes, guests said, the music was turned back up and games of beach volleyball had resumed.

“We were just shocked, just totally totally stunned. I was afraid we weren’t going to make it out of Mexico.”

After the first few postings on TripAdvisor regarding the shootout, Joshua Campos, the resort’s social media coordinator and e-concierge posted a response saying that the resort has cameras, trained security agents and a fenced perimeter.

“We are aware of an incident that occurred on a public beach in proximity to our resort, which appears to have been an altercation between some local residents. No activity occurred on our property and none of the resort staff were involved in this incident,” Campos wrote. “Guests and operations were not affected.”

Like Apple Vacations, executives with Expedia and Transat would not disclose whether or how they keep track of injuries and deaths on partner properties.

“We can’t comment on proprietary internal policies,” Victoria Cagliero, a spokeswoman for Expedia, wrote in an email to the Journal Sentinel. “We can assure travelers that there is a vast amount of activity going on behind the scenes on their behalf.”

Expedia’s website does not contain destination-specific warnings for Mexico.

Additionally, Cagliero said vacationers should not depend on the reviews by travelers that Expedia publishes when weighing the safety of a place.

“We don’t think the best source of data for this is our reviews, but rather law enforcement or the hotels themselves,” Cagliero said.

In a follow-up email, she added: “We always recommend travelers keep an eye on travel advisories and visit the State Department website for the most up to date information.”

Thomas Dickerson, a retired New York appeals court judge and travel law expert, said travel agencies and tour operators have a strong incentive not to collect, archive and report negative events.

“Of course their response is, ‘We don’t know anything,’ ” said Dickerson. “That’s an old defense. In trial you have to establish that they had access to information. They’re not going to tell you upfront that they keep any records.”

Comfort levels with risk

Michael Barney is an analyst for iJET, a risk-management company that specializes in travel risk.

The company’s clients include tour operators, Barney said, but he would not disclose which ones.

iJET and other risk management companies, such as International SOS, collect safety and security information often used by employers sending workers to locations around the world.

The companies gather data from an array of sources, including media accounts, government reports and statistics, academic studies, on-the-ground sources and other means to compile as complete a picture as possible, said Barney, regional manager of the Americas for iJet.

“We avoid telling people this is safe or isn’t safe, or don’t go here, go here,” Barney said. “We provide an assessment of the risks so they can better understand them. … We try to be extremely timely and as accurate as possible. We try not to be alarmist.”

John Werner, president of Mast Travel Network, a consortium of about 220 travel agencies, said his firm has been getting a lot of calls from travel agents with concerns about what to tell their customers about Mexico.

Similar to the American Society of Travel Agents, Mast gathers information about destinations from a variety of sources, hotel companies, media reports and the Mexico Tourism Board. Mast also relies heavily on the U.S. State Department.

He said his company recommends agencies focus on their customers’ comfort level with risk. If seasoned travelers are planning their 50th trip to Mexico, there might not be a need to discuss safety. But first-time travelers are a different story, he said.

“I wouldn’t say (travel agencies) are steering people away from Mexico, or any destination for that matter, unless the State Department has a big warning on traveling somewhere,” Werner said. “It’s really the customer’s comfort level.”

Building awareness

Similar problems with deaths, rapes and crimes on cruise ships led a group of parents and lawmakers to push for federal legislation requiring cruise companies to report such crimes to the FBI. The Cruise Vessel and Security Act of 2010 also gave the FBI jurisdiction to investigate, something more difficult for the agency to do in a foreign country.

In 2014, the U.S. Department of Transportation launched a web page containing statistics on cruise line incidents, vessel safety and details on where passengers can turn for assistance.

“They never would have done it on their own” said Kendall Carver, chairman of the International Cruise Victims Association, a Phoenix-based non-profit. Carver’s daughter went missing from a cruise ship in 2004. “Our bill isn’t perfect, but it starts to build an awareness of the various crimes that are occurring.”

Traumatizing taxi ride

Jason Enwere and his brother had been planning to take their mom somewhere special for her 50th birthday. Enwere, a 26-year-old college student from Toronto, researched the resorts in late January and settled on an all-inclusive near Playa del Carmen.

He hadn’t heard about any safety problems around Playa del Carmen. He and his mom and brother went into town one afternoon to check out the shops. Enwere went back that night to check out the nightlife, but didn’t go in any clubs and wasn’t drinking. He met some other Canadians and talked for awhile, then hailed a cab back. It was around 12:45 a.m.

The first few taxis that stopped wanted to charge him 450 pesos when he had paid 100 earlier in the day. After awhile, a cab driver agreed to 200 pesos. There was a man in the backseat, but that didn’t seem unusual, since there were other passengers in his cab on the way to town earlier in the evening.

“When I saw his head and legs, I lost it and I started screaming. I was just devastated. What did we ever do? We just came for a holiday. We just wanted a week of rest.”

Dorothy Eze, Jason Enwere’s mother

Within a few minutes he noticed the taxi driver was taking a different route back. The driver made a few turns and they soon were on a dark, quiet street. The man in the back grabbed him by the neck and began choking him. They demanded his phone and money.

“I knew I was going to get hurt,”  Enwere said. “They were already hurting me without giving me a chance. I decided to fight back.”

He kicked and punched and tried to break free. He remembers the grasp on his neck being so tight that he passed out.

“Everything slowed down. I could hear my breath slowing down,” he said.

He regained consciousness, with wind blowing in his face. He was hanging out of the car. The car slowed and pulled over. The next thing Enwere knew, the man from the back seat was smashing his skull with a rock the size of a volleyball. The man then jumped back in the car and they sped away.

“I knew I had to get up and move or I would never get back to my family.”

Enwere limped down the street, most of the skin gone from one of his legs. The back of his head and face were bleeding. After a few blocks he saw what appeared to be police officers. But they didn’t seem worried about him or particularly helpful.

They asked him what happened. And then they searched his pockets for money.

“It was just horrible,” Enwere said.

But there was one man who seemed like he had a little more good in him than bad, Enwere said.

After huddling and whispering with the others, the man came back and got him another taxi. He was back at the resort about 45 minutes later. His brother and mom were waiting outside.

“When I saw his head and legs, I lost it and I started screaming,” said his mother, Dorothy Eze. “I was just devastated. What did we ever do? We just came for a holiday. We just wanted a week of rest.”

Stephan Barth, a law professor at the Conrad N. Hilton College of Hotel and Restaurant Management at the University of Houston, said how travel agents and tour operators handle injuries and deaths — like any other business — is a matter of risk management.

“Some might argue they’re playing Russian roulette,” said Barth, who is also founder of hospitalitylawyer.com, an international network of attorneys that focuses on travel and tourism. “They will get sued at some point.

“For many companies today, they’ve made the calculated decision that it’s cheaper to insure than it is to do the right thing.”

, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Caracastan: Is Venezuela planning a war against its neighbors?

Venezuelan Attack

Some experts are calling attention to recent developments in the Castro Colony of Venenozuela (a.k.a. Caracastan).

It seems that Venenozuela is preparing for war, possibly on two fronts: against Colombia and Guyana.

Such a move would — of course — follow all the guidelines of The Castro Playbook.

Castronoid General Abelardo Colome Ibarra, and other senior Cuban military officials pose with their Venezuelan pupils
Abridged from INQUISITR:

During the last few months, the Venezuelan government has been positioning troops along the border with the small South American nation of Guyana. This has raised the concern that Caracas may be intending to take the Essequibo territory through military force…

… It is hypothesized that Nicolas Maduro may use military action as a way to unite the Venezuelan people against a foreign foe. Additionally, the occupation of Guyanese soil could become a bargaining chip against the ICJ and the United States.

The fact that Guyana lacks any credible military force makes the country an optimal target for the relatively well-equipped, but logistically barren, Venezuelan military…

… It should be noted that another front has recently opened in this crisis.

Last Friday, the Venezuelan Minister of the Interior, Néstor Reverol, advanced the possibility of military action against Colombia, the Globoreports. He accused Bogotá of providing Venezuelan citizens Colombian identities and military training, which would be a reason for a military intervention. Reverol also added that the recruitment is characterized by the presence of “paramilitary personnel, partisans, and criminal bands.”

The website Poder Aéreo reported the deployment of Venezuelan F-16 fighter jets on the border with Colombia…

… As all the factors are put together, the question remains: Will Venezuela invade its neighbors?

The answer is hard to determine.

by Carlos Eire

TRAVEL ALERT: Hate Crimes At All-Time High In UK

Antisemitism UK

Travelers who are Jewish should take precautions when in the United Kingdom.

FACT: 1,382 hate incidents and 34% rise in violent assaults against Jewish people in 2017 logged [a report by by Community Security Trust].

Anti-Semitic hate incidents have reached a record level in the UK, with the Jewish community targeted at a rate of nearly four times a day last year, figures indicate.

There was no obvious single cause behind the trend, the trust said. “Often increases in anti-Semitic incidents have been attributable to reactions to specific trigger events that cause identifiable, short-term, spikes in incident levels. However, this was not the case in 2017. Instead, it appears that the factors that led to a general, sustained, high level of anti-Semitic incidents in 2016 continued throughout much of 2017.”

The report pointed to a rise in all forms of hate crime following the EU referendum as well as publicity surrounding alleged antisemitism in the Labour party. These factors may have caused higher levels of incidents as well as encouraged more reporting of anti-Semitic incidents from victims and witnesses in the Jewish community, the trust said.

The trust’s figures showed a 34% increase in the number of violent anti-Semitic assaults, from 108 in 2016 to 145 in 2017. The most common single type of incident in 2017 involved verbal abuse randomly directed at Jewish people in public.

TRAVEL ALERT SWEDEN: 1 In 8 Swedish Women Will Be Raped

Rape Sweden

Sweden’s government has ordered the country’s National Council on Crime Prevention (Brå) to look into why the number of reported rapes in the country has increased.

The agency has the task of finding out whether the increase related to specific types of sexual offences, certain situations, or certain groups of perpetrators, though exactly how it measures these factors will be up to Brå.

The number of sexual offences reported to police in Sweden has risen steadily over recent decades.

However, it is unlikely that this is the full explanation for the rise, since the past four years have also seen an overall increase in exposure to sexual offences, according to the Swedish Crime Survey, also carried out by Brå. This report is based on survey answers rather than police reports, and aims to give a more complete picture of the victimization rate.

As The Local reported at the time, the 2017 survey published in November showed that the proportion of the population who had been victims of what is classed as ‘crime against an individual’ – assault, threats, mugging, fraud, harassment, or sexual assault – was at its highest level since records began in 2006.

The most significant rise was reported in instances of sexual offences, with the victimization rate for such crimes going from 0.8 to 2.4 percent between 2012 and 2016. That equates to around 181,000 people, an all-time high. Among women, the rate is even higher, at 4.1 percent.

In this survey, sexual offences covered a wide range of crimes from exhibitionism to assault.

At the time, Åsa Strid from Brå told The Local: “These results raise a number of questions about why so many more people are reporting that they have experienced sexual offences.”

The government has now called on Brå to estimate “to the greatest extent possible” how the victimization rate has developed.

This will include analysis of whether certain types of sexual crime are behind the rise, and whether the rise relates to a particular group of perpetrators.

It is not clear whether this would include an investigation of the ethnicity of perpetrators of sexual crimes, something which Sweden’s Moderate Party has called for.

by Catherine Edwards

France To Consider Legalizing Child Rape

France Child Rape

Is a 13-year-old old enough to agree to sex with an adult? That’s a question France is asking as the government prepares to set a legal age for sexual consent for the first time.

Twice in recent weeks, French courts have refused to prosecute men for rape after they had sex with 11-year-old girls because authorities couldn’t prove coercion. Amid the public disbelief over the situation, the French government is drafting a bill to say that sex with children under a certain age is by definition coercive.

Justice Minister Nicole Belloubet provoked consternation among feminist groups Monday by saying a legal minimum age of 13 for sexual consent “is worth considering.”

Activists staged a small protest Tuesday in central Paris to argue that the age of consent should be set at 15. Protesters waved placards that read “for him impunity, for her a life sentence” in reference to the recent cases.

“We want the law to guarantee that before 15 there can be no concept of consent,” prominent French feminist activist Caroline de Haas said.

“I don’t know why (Belloubet) said it,” added Alice Collet, a member of the National Collective for Women’s Rights. “It’s a sign of ignorance of the issues.”

Establishing a legal age of consent is one piece of a pending bill to address sexual violence and harassment in France. The subject of sexual misconduct has drawn fresh attention worldwide since rape and sexual assault allegations were made against Hollywood film producer Harvey Weinstein.

“In America with the Weinstein fallout, there have been legal investigations. But here it has been radio silence from politicians,” said de Haas.

French women have increasingly been speaking out online and to police in recent weeks about past abuse, but no high-profile men in France have lost their jobs or suffered reputational damage so far.

A report Tuesday night in the newspaper Liberation detailed allegations by eight women accusing the former head of the Socialist Party’s youth movement of serial harassment in 2010-2014. The alleged perpetrator, Thierry Marchal-Beck, is quoted as saying that he was “stupefied” by the accusations and threatened possible legal action. It may be too late for the women to press charges under French law.

A Non Political Understanding Of The Relief Crisis is Puerto Rico…Surprise It’s Not FEMA’s Fault!

Puerto Rico Dale Yeager Blog

FYI current reports show that union workers at the docks are refusing to move relief aid because they want more money. Sad!

‘Inept’ Puerto Rican government ‘riddled with corruption’

Jorge Rodriguez, 49, is the Harvard-educated CEO of PACIV, an international engineering firm based in Puerto Rico that works with the medical and pharmaceutical sectors. The Puerto Rican-born engineer says he has dispatched 50 engineers to help FEMA rehabilitate the devastated island — a commonwealth of the United States — after Hurricane Maria. He refuses to work with the local government, which he called inept and riddled with corruption.

For the last 30 years, the Puerto Rican government has been completely inept at handling regular societal needs, so I just don’t see it functioning in a crisis like this one. Even before the hurricane hit, water and power systems were already broken. And our $118 billion debt crisis is a result of government corruption and mismanagement.

The governor Ricardo Rossello has little experience. He’s 36 and never really held a job and never dealt with a budget. His entire administration is totally inexperienced and they have no clue how to handle a crisis of this magnitude.

For instance, shortly after the hurricane hit, the government imposed a curfew from 6 pm to 6 am and then changed it. Now, it’s 7 pm to 5 am, and makes no sense. The curfew has prevented fuel trucks from transporting their loads. These trucks should have been allowed to run for 24 hours to address our needs, but they have been stalled, and so we have massive lines at gas stations and severe shortages of diesel at our hospitals and supermarkets.

I’m really tired of Puerto Rican government officials blaming the federal government for their woes and for not acting fast enough to help people on the island. Last week I had three federal agents in my office and I was so embarrassed; I went out of my way to apologize to them for the attitude of my government and what they have been saying about the US response. When the hurricane hit we had experts from FEMA from all over the US on the ground and I was really proud of their quick response. The first responders and FEMA have all been outstanding in this crisis, and should be supported.

I have 50 engineers that I have sent out pro bono to help local companies get back on their feet. This includes getting people gasoline and cash, and helping them connect to others that can assist with repairs without delays.

I won’t allow my people to work with the local government.

I have a message for the U.S. Congress: Watch out what relief funds you approve and let our local government handle. Don’t let the Puerto Rican government play the victim and fool you. They have no clue what they are doing, and I worry that they will mishandle anything that comes their way.

They don’t need another aircraft carrier. They need experienced people to run a proper disaster command center.