viernes, 16 de junio de 2017

ALBERTICO Y ESPERANZA (PART III)



                                                    portada diez cuentos cubanos, más o menos.

It was ironic that his dedication to the revolution notwithstanding Albertico was never allowed to join the party; in Cuba since the early sixties the party was only one; the Communist Party headed by the Castros; there were no other parties nor were Cubans permitted to profess an ideology different from the official narrative. Albertico lost almost all his friends, most of them had left the island and embraced the capitalist way they had so vehemently reneged only a decade ago, while others thought the revolution was not red enough and craved the achievements of the glorious Soviet Union; curious, Albertico thought, in the end the ultra communists left too. Hay cosas que no se entienden. Whenever Esperanza claimed the revolution had been unfair with him he answered he was one the many communists without membership card. I don't need a card to be a communist. Yes, I confess I had hated communism for a long time but that was before the revolution gave me the opportunity to study and see the world as it was; well not really see the world, Esperanza reminded him that his coworkers had all traveled abroad and he hadn't.

The seventies brought one failure after another; El Comandante had these great ideas that were successful only in his mind. Albertico always blamed it on his lazy fellow Cubans; thus, from one position to the next he always got in trouble; he was always the target of the bureaucracy and he saw his children become adults hating the very experiment he had so hard fought for. Then, all of a sudden, something odd happened. Fidel gave a speech announcing that those traitors he had been forced to turn away from would now be allowed to come visit the island. Ay mi madre how are we going to look Susana and Antonio in the eye?. Albertico felt somewhat betrayed, for the first time he doubted el comandante's wisdom.

In less than a year it all turned back to the early days; people started leaving the island in any possible way; breaking into embassies, jumping into rafts. His estranged friends had all come and hugged him as if time had not passed; they were not starving as "Granma" used to depict exile in Miami; he was dumbfounded to realize that a welder in America lived much better than a neurosurgeon in Cuba. The party propaganda had been deceitful. Fidel had to do something, he was being betrayed again. His children wanted to leave and he had to use all his convincing power to talk them out of such decision; then Cubans started to bully Cubans all over the place. El comandante had clearly said that all those who wanted to leave could do so: we don't want them; we don't need them; he had said; so then why the violence? Why beating them, insulting them?; how could he beat his neighbor of twenty years? Fidel had to be informed; some opportunists were not following his directives. He wrote a lengthy letter to El Comandante; full of passion, exhaustive in the details and with a chronological recap of the Revolution. He never got a reply; Fidel was probably too busy; but he had been hurriedly transferred to a lower position and was never asked to attend "important meetings" again. Some bourgeois opportunist was between him and his beloved Comandante; the enemy is everywhere

Esperanza brings him a glass with lemonade; it's so hot in Cuba in the summer!!!; and they go back to their memories. Their children enrolled in the university of Havana; well Albertin there but the girl went to ISPJAE; she wanted to be an engineer. Albertin had a friend who was very well connected; he chauffeured a compañero coronel; the boy was only two years older than their son but he dressed well, for Cuban standards, and he carried US dollars all the time. Esperanza was scared her son would be detained for possession of hard currency, a serious crime then, but no; his friend was a powerful man. Albertico was not too happy, his son had started to drink a little too much and had somehow neglected his duties at school; he still got 4s and 3s but had stopped getting 5s and it bothered him.

A chilling effect travels down his back as Albertico remembers the guards coming for his son and taking him to Villa Marista; he was there for a whole day and had been sent back home with a warning not to see his friend again. The news, the videotapes of a trial. My God Arnaldo Ochoa, the most popular and decorated general in the Cuban Armed Forces has been arrested and is about to be sentenced; his son's friend had been in jail for a week and his boss was among the ones put on trial with General Ochoa. It didn't add up; Ochoa had been in Angola while the other traitors were engaged in drug trafficking towards the US; secret meetings with Escobar; he ran to his room and looked for the old American magazine Antonio had left in his last trip to Cuba; the objective had been the sports section; but Albertico had caught a glimpse of Admiral Santamaria; whom he knew well; what was the Admiral doing in an American magazine; with Antonio's help he had grasped the essence; the Admiral had been indicted with the charge of drug trafficking; Raul's name was also mentioned. Hay cosas que no se entienden. Albertico felt sick; he felt a sharp pain in his stomach, then his left arm went numb and he fainted. That was his first stroke and as he returned home from the hospital three days later the world had fallen on his shoulders. He kept glued to the TV set for the entire duration of the trial. He was absent from work for two months; he had never missed a day in his life; but Esperanza had been adamant: you will do as the doctor ordered. He obeyed and watched the first and the second trial. This time he had no doubts; nobody was lying to Fidel; the Comandante himself was asking for blood!!! The American magazine, Antonio's assurances that Castro was behind the whole scandal. Hay cosas que no se entienden.

Albertico returned to work but nothing was the same. He could not feel the old enthusiasm. Fidel had banned the Soviet magazines. Hay cosas que no se entienden. The news from the Soviet Union were confusing and it was becoming harder and harder to get food. One day he heard Fidel say something he never thought he would say: we have been abandoned by the Soviet Union and the socialist bloc does not exist anymore; right before his incredulous eyes, Cuba collapsed into an economic depression; they could only eat when a friend from the Miami flew to the island. What had happened?; Esperanza finally broke the news to him while the family sat at the table for a frugal meal: "Esto es una mierda papi" and she started crying so helplessly Albertico feared his wife might suffer a heart attack.

After that it all blurred; black outs and an economic crisis only similar to the stories he had heard about las vacas flacas. Parents pimping their daughters and even their sons to sexual predators disguised as tourists. He had seen Americans, not as many as the official propaganda later had it, come to Cuba for sex; funny thing now they came from all over the world but America; entire aircrafts filled with single men to enjoy the sexual prowess of teenagers male and female; one mass exodus after the other. Esto es una mierda; his wife words rang incessantly in his mind. So many years of sacrifice, so many things they had done without only to find himself incapable of feeding his family; what they ate was procured by the lousy tips the tourists gave Albertin whose degree ended up being a waste of time as he had been forced to earn his keep as a bellhop in Havana Libre. Mariana was even worse; it had broken his heart when he found out his almost forty year old daughter was dating a wealthy Italian that came regularly to Cuba on business; or so he said. Mariana's husband was well aware of the whole thing and had been introduced to the rich man as her cousin. That was his second stroke. He refused to accept any gifts from his daughter TO BE CONTINUED...

domingo, 11 de junio de 2017

TO BE A ROCK AND NOT TO ROLL



                                 Image result for picture of Trump and Raul Castro   
It's been widely reported that President Trump will come to Miami next Friday to officially announce his policy for Cuba. I haven't confirmed this rumor; but if it proves accurate Mr Trump will be yet another Commander in Chief with the uncomfortable matter called Cuba.

Whilst I did not agree with Obama's  give all, or almost all in exchange for nothing and I believe the unconditional "surrendering" of his administration was a betrayal to the martyrdom of so many Cubans shot by firing squads, summarily jailed and pressed into exile, there are a few aspects of his so called new approach that help us more than harm us; namely: the authorization to American companies to start schedule flights and the lifting of caps on the amount of money to be remitted to relatives in the island. The former not only deprives the Havana Junta of its monopoly in the business, but drastically lowers the price of air fare which ultimately eases the economic burden on Cuban Americans; it is not a toxic transaction with risks of the regime not paying later since the airlines get the passenger's money and it is the American company that pays the Cuban government; a far cry from exporting goods on direct billing only to find that Raul dines and dashes and the American taxpayers pay for the rich men "adventures" with the enemy.
The latter makes it easier for Cuban Americans to help their relatives in the island; yes the money sooner or later ends up in the Junta's coffers, but rolling back on that could erode Mr Trump's thin advantage among Cuban Americans. That would have to be combined with a roll back on remittances to all Cubans, the ban on sending money to party members must be reinstated.

It is not the job of the president of the United States to tell the elitist regime what to do, but it would help him immensely to trade a few concessions for the elimination of entry permit for Cuban Americans, Trump would increase his popularity among us if he managed to pull out such a deal; given Venezuela's situation Raul
Castro may be willing to compromise. 

A larger than ever segment of our society is pressing for more "cooperation" with the Cuban regime. Trump would make a wise decision if he allowed all those companies that are pushing the new agenda to export their goods to Cuba at their own peril; no government insured investments. That would rob them of the opportunistic narrative of helping the Cuban people; If you love the Cuban people so much prove it by investing at your own risk and don't force the taxpayers to subsidize your decisions. The public opinion would suddenly learn that those businessmen don't love the Cubans so much after all.

No access whatsoever should be granted to Cuban officials to any government installations; Cuban and American generals could easily meet in a secured location to coordinate ways to fight drug smuggling; provided that the Junta had abandoned its old habit of allowing its territory to be used as a launching pad to the traffic from South America or even Mexico. A hot line could be established and that would take care of cooperation without compromising our security.
Regardless of Mr Trump unique temperament, announcing his policy from Miami should mean that at least some executive orders will be rolled back; if he wanted to renege his promises to the Bay of Pigs' veterans he would have done it from the Oval Office; how pleased we will be after his speech remains to be seen. Despite Cuba's microscopic dimension as a country; it poses a Shakespearean dilemma to our Commander in Chief. Those of us who want a more realistic approach to our relations with the dictator must yet bear in mind that chances are the deadwood scaffolding collapses anytime and the question would be: is Mr Trump prepared to go all the way should that happen?

viernes, 9 de junio de 2017

ALBERTICO Y ESPERANZA (PART II)



                                                     portada diez cuentos cubanos, más o menos.

Rumors began to spread in Havana; a ration card had been imposed; Cuba was part of the communist bloc despite Castro's repeated assurances to the contrary just a few months earlier. Albertico had earned the privilege of being sent to a special school that would qualify him as a political cadre. He hit the books hard and submerged into a jargon he had never heard before; the masses, class struggle, relations of production, basic means of production, planned economy; all that sounded good although he always had hated communism. One of the instructors had explained how Fidel had to be deceitful. El Comandante couldn't come clean about his ideology in 1959; conditions were not ripe yet. Albertico didn't know conditions had to be ripe; for all he knew Fidel never lied and he had defended Fidel's honesty with tooth an nails against many of his old friends. The highlight of the course came when Albertico learned he was fighting to install a dictatorship in Cuba; now wait a fucking minute!!!; he had helped overthrow Batista because the thug was a dictator and now this elderly man with a goatee tells him it was all in order to impose another dictatorship?; no; the instructor answered patiently, almost patronizingly. We had a shameful dictatorship that privileged the wealthy; the one we are building now will only make sure the proletariat is never deprived again of its inalienable rights; it's different. Ah, Albertico sighed relieved, now I understand; Comrade, what the hell is the proletariat anyway?

Esperanza's face was long and swollen; she had been crying; the children were already in bed and as he prepared for a quick shower his wife broke the news: Marcelo Pages; one of his best friends had been arrested and summarily sentenced to 20 years in prison. The charges were the same used against most of his friends: treason, working of the Yankee imperialism, divulging of propaganda against the revolution and so on. What's going to happen with his wife? with his children?, a desperate Esperanza asked her husband; can you do something?; can you tell them he had fought against Batista? Of course Albertico said; I will request a permit tomorrow at school and I will go to Villa Marista; you know who's in charge there? Maximo, our best man, remember? Esperanza nodded absently, she hardly remembered anyone anymore; for the last five years their life had been the revolution, and yet nothing worked. Marcelo remained in prison for 10 years and was released only to be taken to the airport and flown out of the country for good. Some friends had told him Marcelo had been tortured and abused but Albertico didn't believe "las bolas" the revolution never tortured anyone; the revolution was generous.

As in fast forward they remembered los diez millones; it wasn't ten million dollars but a goal Fidel had set for his people as a matter of honor. This Fidel was something else; el Comandante es un cabron hahahahaha. He cut the harvest of 1969 short and saved some of the output for the next harvest, the one of 1970 when they were supposed to achieve the greatest goal of all. Well, una trampista; we can't make it easier for the Yankees by stopping one pound short of the Ten Million Tons.

Esperanza reminds him of the assassination of el Che in Bolivia, how they cried when they heard the news; the invasion of Czechoslovakia; but that one he was prepared for; he had kissed Esperanza's forehead and patiently explained to her that the Soviets had made sure the proletariat was never abused again in that European nation. No Esperanza it was not like Batista's or Machado's it was our dictatorship; we have to make sure the rich few never exploit us again. It's complicated mi amor

Albertico spent 1970 making sure he contributed to the greatest success yet; he had even been in meetings with the Comandante; Esperanza you have to see this man; he is a genius, not only will we reach the goal but diversify our agriculture as well; we will no longer depend on anyone; we will be self sufficient; we will build communism even before the Soviets; how can a fertile island like ours import food? We will fix all that. Esperanza smiled halfheartedly as she saw her husband's back shrinking in the distance. It's so complicated, but yes, it would be great to be able to eat what you wanted and finally get rid of the damned ration card. Albertico had righteously told her: we will know we had won when we get rid of la libreta. She closed her eyes and hoped; a hopeless ignorant in politics she nevertheless remembered the stories so many Chinese from Calle Zanja had told her about why they had fled their country; no food to eat, everybody dressed with the same ugly clothes; everybody at the same level, but not at the same level of wealth but at the lowest level of poverty. Esperanza shrugged her worries off. Naw; it wouldn't happen in Cuba. Albertico was too smart to believe in something sinister and Fidel, according to her husband, was the smartest man on earth. Well, she had so many times had an opinion and after listening to the Comandante she had changed her mind. Everything would be alright.

The rally was vague in their minds; Fidel admitting the ten millions would never be reached; funny the real output even with la trampita of cutting the previous harvest short, was exactly as his friend Remberto had heard through The Voice of America: eight and a half million. He didn't feel defeated; he felt useless, powerless, once again the Cuban people had failed Fidel. The man had devoted his life to his country; he had sacrificed family and all for the good of the country and there they were, these lazy fellow Cubans unable to keep a promise. 

Esperanza seemed unable to get over the upset; el Comandante first had even hinted at a resignation only to close his speech calling Cubans to turn this defeat into a success; was someone going to cover the missing million and a half?; how could you fail and still succeed?; even Esperanza realized it was impossible; she gave up hope; she dutifully accepted her husband's kiss in the forehead but refused to believe things could be so complicated; probably some people want to make them look complicated because the simple truth was hard to swallow. They had very few friends left; most of those who had fought against Batista were either imprisoned or exiled and everybody else seemed only interested in buying stuff in the black market. Even Albertico who never believed "las bolas" had changed his approach. At first whenever she told him rumors had it that meat would run short he shrugged the rumor off saying it was all imperialist propaganda; now when she told him potatoes were going to be hard to find his unexpected response was: what are you waiting for mi vida? Go buy as much as you can !!!

Their children listened to a loud unintelligible music in English and smuggled "Carta de Espana"; they wanted to dress better and didn't care for voluntary work; Esperanza could never overcome her confusion and Albertico, puzzled as he was by things going  the opposite way he had fought for still kissed her forehead and told her: it's complicated mi amor, hay cosas que no se entienden. It looked as though the struggle was no longer the means to achieve an objective but the objective itself. It was complicated; hay cosas que no se entienden. TO BE CONTINUED...

lunes, 5 de junio de 2017

ALBERTICO Y ESPERANZA PART I



portada diez cuentos cubanos, más o menos.
Alberto Jordan Carriles; known among friends as Albertico back in the day, married Esperanza De la Cruz Gispert. They managed to remain married despite the turbulent end of the fifties; the difficult sixties, the hard seventies and all the decades to this moment. They live in the same old house in Lawton and do whatever they have to do to make ends meet; though ends never meet in Cuba. As they stare at each other, still with that loving look of their school years they sometimes let their minds wander and travel in time and space. Gatekeepers of so many memories they have devoted the last few days to review their life together; for some reason they didn't start at the beginning; they acted like someone who was late for the feature film and hardly had time to watch the plot unfold. Thus, their first memory goes back to when Albertico was arrested for planting a bomb in Parque Trillo; the cop had noticed his nervousness and followed him discretely only to catch the young man red handed. Albertico spent two weeks in jail; many of his fellow prisoners were roughed up by the cops; one of them was even tortured, but probably because Sargento Antunez had grown fund of him, he was never touched or even threatened. 

Before sending him back to a teary girlfriend, Antunez had lectured him at length about the intricacies and complexities of life. It was always complicated and it was never what it seemed to be. Those barbudos you so blindly follow will only use you. If they defeat El General they will bring decades of chaos and tribulation; thank God the Americans will never allow that to happen. Go home, marry that beautiful young girl and be un hombre decente. That was the last he ever saw of Abilio Antúnez Millán; next thing he heard was that the Sargent had been shot by a firing squad; he wept silently while his wife cried helplessly wondering how the man who had spared her husband's life had lost his so uselessly. Albertico kissed her in the forehead and echoed the dead man's wise words: it's complicated; it's not as simple as it seems. Never did he dared question the better judgement of the man sent by God to save his beloved Cuba; man is not capable of understanding everything: hay cosas que no se entienden. 

Then came Albertin; just to differentiate him from his dad, and Mariana; seventeen months later. Brother and sister that Esperanza had to raise in the capacity of a father/mother figure since Albertico was always doing something great for the good of the country. He could run a farm although he had never even learned the difference between and pig and a swine. He could oversee the construction of an apartment complex although he wasn't even able to spread plaster on a wall. He left at dawn and came back: if he came back, after midnight. Esperanza just put up with it; no use arguing; if Fidel was able to do so many things at the same time; how could he fail him staying home when there was so much to do for the future?. Years came and went as Albertico saw his children only asleep in the room they shared.

Susana and Antonio, their best friends, were about to leave the country. This was evidently a communist dictatorship that only a fool like Albertico could not see coming; then los Yankees invaded; or were they Cubans?; Susana and Antonio had been detained in the biggest raid in the history of the island. Albertico knew his friends were decent people who would never do anything to harm their country but things are complicated; hay cosas que no se entienden; if only these Americans were less hostile and left us alone. Finally their friends were released and allowed to leave the country. Albertico wouldn't see them off at Rancho Boyeros; unfortunately their friendship had to end there. Albertico wept silently but Esperanza cried helplessly. He kissed her forehead and reiterated his ritornello: it's complicated; hay cosas que no se entienden. And off he went before his children were ready to go to school. Much needed to be done, a nation had to be salvaged TO BE CONTINUED...

domingo, 28 de mayo de 2017

EMBARRASSED?



The president of the United States, my Commander in Chief regardless of his party of affiliation and political persuasion deserves deference and respect; he is not our father as Chris Rock once suggested Obama was; and it's fair game to criticize him. I don't have any problems with people criticizing our current president and I even call him El Loco as I have used nick names for pretty much every politician. Only time will tell whether this presidency brings any good to America or whether we chose the wrong character for the top job in the land. 

I was an ardent critic of president Obama, but I'm not ashamed of him; he was elected by the people and there is no reason for being embarrassed; the same is valid for Mr Trump; I don't give a rat's behind if the First Lady clawed his arm when he tried to hold her; I couldn't care less if they don't get along well. Like I don't care if our president's ego makes him push another dignitary to be in the spotlight of a photo op. I don't feel ashamed to have a president that many in the world do not like and I don't take lessons from anyone. This is the guy we chose and thank God we can yank him in 2020 if he doesn't deliver; I'm proud that we have that choice and when I hear some fellow Americans whining about how embarrassed they feel in front of the rest of the world I ask myself: why the hell should I be embarrassed ? Who can lecture us as to how to conduct our business? 
The Germans? Those who gassed millions of Jews in the caricature claim of a superior race?
The French? Those who murdered hundreds of thousands of Algerians with their stubborn colonial ambitions?
The Spaniards? Those who were at the very door of a communist dictatorship and found another dictatorship as the only way out?
The Italians? Those who made a mockery of themselves trying to colonize Libya, Ethiopia and Eritrea?; those who haven't been able to make a government last for decades and have been shoved FOUR consecutive prime ministers without the shadow of an election ?

"Americans are children", many claim. Well we may be; but we have the most powerful nation on earth the left notwithstanding. We don't need lessons from fascists, communists and political invertebrates in general; we just need to listen to our people, spend our money wisely and fix whatever may have gone wrong during the last few decades; and God knows many things have gone wrong.

We are a nation that welcomes talent and hard work from all over the world. We must continue on that path making sure the demographic balance is not upset and that we put our interests above all else. 

domingo, 7 de mayo de 2017

ODYSSEY OR VACATION? II





Related imageImage result for pictures of luggage
Friday April 28th; a hot afternoon in Miami; MÍA, as we know Wilcox Field (Miami's International Airport), one of the busiest in the country, shows its usual Friday afternoon rush. Terminal D, American Airline chunk of the u shaped structure in its international arrival area; the door opens continuously to let passengers in; occasionally the PA system lets us hear Mayor Carlos Giménes welcome all visitors in a short, insipid message in English; that's OK; most visitors have no idea of what Miami DADE County is nor what the mayor looks like. After standing stoically with the last name of my customers on a sign for over an hour and a half I finally see two long elderly faces approach me and try in their best Itanglish to apologize for their delay; they had had to fill a baggage loss report. Air Berlin had somehow left their two suitcases in Germany's capital. I made it a point to verify they had their report number and all necessary documents before we left the building. We quickly reached the parking lot; of course they could move fast; after all, they had no luggage.

Driving them to the Best Western Atlantic in Miami Beach took me about 17 minutes during which time I went through my entire repertoire of reassuring and soothing words in Italian to counter the barrage of negative facts the poor customers detailed to me: Air Berlin's ground handler in Miami; which means the company that takes care of all services for their passengers and negotiations on a day to day basis with the logistics of servicing an aircraft after a transatlantic flight and ready it up to fly back home punctually had explained to them the following:
"Your suitcases will most likely arrive tomorrow; due to the time of arrival we won't have enough time to clear customs and send them to the Port of Miami before 16:00 hrs ET (deadline to allow any passenger or luggage in) and make sure they get on board; therefore, we will send them to St Thomas, in the US Virgin Islands, on an American Airline flight and the AA staff there will hold them until May 2nd. That's the best we can do". So my poor elderly couple was supposed to enjoy their vacation as follows: spend one night in Miami Beach; embark the next day (April 29th at 13:30 ET) on a cruise (Carnival Glory) only with their two back packs; spend their first night aboard the cruise, enjoy the beauty of Carnival's private island in the Bahamas; sail for an entire day on May 1st and wait until May 2nd when, hopefully if nobody made a mistake, someone from the crew would go to St Thomas's airport and fetch their suitcases; FOUR days after they had landed in Miami.

The next day at 13:00 ET sharp I drove by the Best Western Atlantic Miami Beach to take them to the Port of Miami; they told me they had followed my advise and used the Miami Beach Trolley to know a little of the northern part of my beautiful city; they were not happy; something was bothering them; after 38 years you can always tell. Knowing what bothered them I asked them point blank if they had heard from the AB ground handler; and there they went again; they were scared that nobody could help them aboard the ship; they spoke two words of English and their anxiety was evident. Finally they shot the request I knew was brewing inside them since we had first met: could I explain the situation to the Carnival staff so that they could be certain everyone was in the same page?; course I answered. I used all of the 14 minutes needed to get to the Port of Miami reassuring them that while a baggage loss did not happen everyday both the cruise line and the airline were used to handle their situation. We finally got there; and after writing a detailed account in English of the facts and what needed to be done so that they could instruct the concierge on the ship I immediately asked security if I could accompany my elderly clients a few feet further to speak to the cruise staff; they called someone and the minute I saw who was supposed to help I knew it wouldn't happen; this Hispanic lady had TROUBLE written across her face:
"They lost the bags and we have to pick them in St Thomas?; I doubt it; that's unheard of" the customers could not understand English but the dismissiveness and lack of interest shown by this employee was so blatant that they quickly turned their hopeless faces to me and BOTH grabbed my hand like small children. I felt sick; how can you betray your fears, your incompetence and your lack of skills in front of a passenger?.
"May I speak to someone who works for Carnival?" I asked, my fuse running short, "I work for Carnival sir" the lady countered.
"No; you get a check twice a month from Carnival, I need someone who does work for Carnival; someone with the will and the urge to assist my elderly customers; because they didn't lose their bags as you wrongly put it; some inept prick misplaced their luggage in Berlin; someone that evidently gets a check from Air Berlin but does not work for Air Berlin"!!!. My irritation was so obvious that the security staff quickly intervened and asked for a supervisor. 

A young Hispanic lady with a smile in her face approached me and carefully listened to what I had to say; she didn't even blink; it was at that point evident that Volcano Alburquerque was about to erupt. She took a step towards me and looked the passengers in the eye. She spoke to me in English but used her eye contact and her warm demeanor to help me repair the damage her colleague had caused. She wrote a brief note on a piece of paper and ALWAYS looking at my customers she told me what they needed to do the minute they boarded the ship. Fortunately the lava never reached the crater. This sweet young girl had helped me do the trick.

When the clients entered the terminal she held my hand for a second and gave me the friendliest thank you I have ever got. Thank god someone had come to work that morning.

By 14:00 ET I had the names of all involved including the ground handler. Late in the afternoon May 2nd I got a called from an unknown number; reception was poor and all of a sudden I realized it was someone from the cruise; I feared the worst until I heard my customer thanking me and promising he would make sure his tour operator knew how great we were. "Mi hai lasciato un bel ricordo; ti ringraziamo di cuore..." those words meant the world to me.

I would like to share some thoughts regarding this unfortunate incident:
1- For the passengers' convenience, but most of all for security purposes there has to be  system that detects how many pieces of luggage are checked in for each flight and match that number with the ones actually inside the luggage container; if that is done (and I'm sure it would take an IT young kid two minutes to desing such software) not only will the airlines give a better service and reduce operational costs but most importantly we will be sure that no luggage goes unaccounted for. After all, if there can be missing luggage there could also be extra luggage containing a bomb couldn't it?
2- The timing was tight, but if instead of letting this couple's baggage follow the normal course the staff in Berlin had marked it so that the handler in MIA could have identified it and swiftly fast tracked it through the customs inspection my elderly customers may have had their suitcases at the original point of departure instead of wearing the same clothes for three days. Let's bear in mind that had this been a three nighter the clients would have had to attend the Captain's dinner with the same smelly attire.
3- I have had the enormous privilege of attending several seminars and courses by Cornell University; supposedly the Mecca of academics regarding the hospitality industry. I have also been privileged to give lectures at the Institute of Tourism in Treviso, Italy. Both as student and as instructor the theme was NEVER use the word no with a customer; use the positive even if your objective is to deny or negate something. The customer can in no instance feel that you are contradicting him/her or doubting his/her word; you are simply broadening the spectrum, adding more variables to the same equation; finding an angle that could make him/her more comfortable. What that lady who gets a check from Carnival twice a month did was a flagrant boycott to customer service; the fact that she did not know the procedure to deal with baggage loss is not only serious but out right unacceptable; what the hell is she doing there?; how can Carnival allow this inept employee take care of its passengers?

The truth is that corporations in America and the rest of the world see human beings as numbers; they can be treated with the same coldness and aloofness that we treat screws and bolts; every minute we spend enlightening a client and providing information is seen as a waste of time and money. A long line of customers checking in is perceived by arrogant corporate America as an assembly line. And why not? Perhaps I'm wrong; perhaps my emotion when I receive a thank you or a warm and grateful handshake is a vestige of my slavery background; maybe I'm an Uncle Tom. Maybe I'm just getting old. Maybe the world will never be a better place; maybe our future as customers is to be treated like trash.

Still, while there's air in my lungs and my heart beats I will do everything in my power to make my customers happy, I will continue to get emotional when they acknowledge my efforts to accommodate them and help them make the best of their stay. It will always be my pride to know that beyond all hurdles my customers are aware that every time they visit my Miami there will be this insignificant individual who will fight the windmills if necessary to make sure they get their money's worth of pleasant time. There will be this person that transcends the usual customer/purveyor dynamics and for the duration of their stay is family. No amount of "modern" savage capitalism will change that. 

lunes, 1 de mayo de 2017

ODYSSEY OR VACATION?





                                                                                 
Grim: Soldier Joshua Bernard is tended to by fellow U.S. Marines after being hit by a rocket propelled grenade during a firefight against the Taliban in the village of Dahaneh in the Helmand Province of Afghanistan.

During the last few days I have tried to raise awareness among my FB friends as to the deplorable state of services in our great nation; the scarcity of choices we have as consumers and the arrogance of corporate America; which, compounded with negligent politicians are parts of a lethal recipe.

As a fervent advocate of capitalism I'm convinced that this system does not only consist of a bunch of privileged individuals making a pile of money; but also of the inalienable rights of the people, the respect for human dignity and last but not least, our freedom to CHOSE, to decide what brand of shoes to wear, what make of car to drive, what destination to pick for our next vacations. If companies continue to disappear; if their founders sell them to banks or financial institutions, and these entities appoint presidents, general managers or CEOs that are nothing but yuppies with allegiance only to their bank accounts and a shameful lack of sensibility towards the consumer capitalism is mortally wounded. If America's proverbial and exemplary entrepreneurship drifts into mere greed and imposes the dictatorship of those who serve upon those who are supposed to be served capitalism is mortally wounded.

The infamous incident that involved United Airlines and one of its passengers has brought our attention to poor procedures; irrational methods and quasi Communist rules that we all accepted as normal. What is more; what I would call the sodomized customer syndrome is so persistent among us that even after viewing a video where the passenger is forcibly removed from the aircraft with a bleeding face a segment of the public opinion dwelled on the integrity of the customers; and the real objectives behind his stubborn refusal to be deplaned; the usual dirty trick a defense lawyer uses when his or her client is charged with rape; the defendant's attorney digs deeply into the victim's life trying to find as much filth as possible. I have even heard people I love and respect claim that albeit unfortunate, the incident is not such a big deal and that Mr Munoz, United CEO, should not be criticized for, at first, siding with his staff at O'Hare's airport only to conveniently shift his position to a more realistic approach when the pressure of the public reached a critical point. Some even say a successful career cannot be tarnished by one mistake. I have news for those friends: a brave American soldier makes one single mistakes and drives too close to an IED (improvised explosive device) he loses a limb or two and his life is ruined forever; he then comes back to the country he fought for only to find himself being pingponged from one bureaucrat to another in that torture chamber we call VA. For that brave soldier who risked his life and most likely ruined it for us there won't be a second chance; and he or she makes a fraction of Mr Munoz's millionaire salary; why should we give the arrogant CEO what life denies to our brave wounded soldiers?

It now seems that United will have a new person at he helm as of next year; yet, this article is not an attempt to assassinate someone's character, but to instill in all of us the sense of freedom and certainty that capitalism used to create in the citizenry. The sacrosanct vehicle of exchange is money; you pay for an object or a service and it becomes yours; no law or regulation should be above that criterion; the minute we allow other elements to enter the equation and challenge our ownership capitalism is mortally wounded. And in this struggle both parties are conspicuously absent. The Democrats suffocate us with thousands of regulations, Republicans oppose those regulations and probably impose some of their own; but neither party seems keen in making corporate America efficient, accountable and law abiding; or, to put it better: common sense abiding. It is time for us as consumers to fight for our rights and the true value of our hard earned money. 

In the second part of this article I will detail to my FB friends the type of nightmare two customers of mine lived after paying thousands of euros for cruising in Carnival's Glory. TO BE CONTINUED...