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Posted May 11, 2009 by publisher in Yoani Sanchez

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Rob Sequin | Havana Journal

Yoani Sanchez recorded a video of her husband Reinaldo Escobar at the Melia Cohiba in Havana Cuba being denied Internet access because he is a Cuban citizen.

It is internationally known that the Cuban government has been restricting the rights of Cuban citizens for decades but I never gave much thought to how the internationally respected Sol Melia corporation works with the Cuban government as an enabler of this human rights violation. Yes, a human rights violation. Today, access to the Internet should be a basic human right.

Sol Melia shame?

Sol Melia should be ashamed for this discriminating practice of denying Internet access based on someone’s nationality.

SolMelia.com, the home page for the international hotel corporation does not even list Cuba as a country where Sol Melia hotels are located yet they own/operate about two dozen hotels in Cuba. However, they own, maintain and promote the country specific website SolMeliaCuba.com yet there is no SolMeliaMexico.com or SolMeliaBrazil.com or SolMeliaSpain.com where the corporation has a major presence in those countries as well.

Why doesn’t SolMelia.com include Cuba as a destination? Why do they have to have a SolMeliaCuba.com? Perhaps it’s because they have to kiss Fidel Castro’s ass in order to have ANY presence in Cuba? Yes, it said it. Sol Melia has to kiss Fidel Castro’s ass in order to do business in Cuba and that means they work with the Cuban government in order to discriminate against Cuban citizens and to violate the human rights of Cuban citizens. They do this so they can operate their hotels in Cuba.

Furthermore, there are no Sol Melia Cuba websites hosted on the SolMelia.com server while there are over 200 other Sol Melia websites hosted on the SolMelia.com server. It is very clear that Sol Melia corporation has made a very clear business decision to keep their Sol Melia Cuba hotels away from any of their other international Sol Melia websites. One would have to ask why this is the case.

Other websites for reporting this news

We thank Tracey Eaton and his Along the Malecon blog for posting his article about this unfortunate business practice of Sol Melia discriminating against Cuban citizens on Sunday.

Babalu Blog posted the video earlier today titled Cuba’s Internet Apartheid

The Cuban Triangle posts their article about Internet restrictions in Cuba

Yoani’s discrimination video

Yoani stated on Generation Y she recorded the video on Saturday May 9 while pretending to be a tourist reading the Granma newspaper.

Video Transcript

(translation from Generation Y)

Reinaldo – Good afternoon, Miss.  I’d like to buy an hour of internet.

Mujer (Raquel) – May I see your passport please.

R – No, what I have is an identity card.

M – No, I can’t sell you an hour of Internet, because the connection here is only for foreigners.

R – Excuse me, I don’t think I heard you clearly.

M – The connection here is only for foreigners.

R – Since when is this?

M – Since one month.

R – I came last week and connected.

M – And who sold you the ticket?

R – I don’t know the name.  Just as I didn’t ask your name, neither did I ask…

M – My name is Raquel.

R – Yes, but you aren’t the only person who works here.  There’s a red-headed girl…

R – It was eight days ago.

M – Now…

M – There’s a resolution that says it’s only for foreigners.  Look here…

R – Yes

R – This is the…

M –  Come here… and… see.

R – But is this only in this hotel?

R – Is this being done in all the hotels?

R – Because I frequently connect in the National and the President.

M – I think in the President they still haven’t established this system.

R – But this is something that comes… a resolution.  Forgive me for asking so many questions.

R – Is this a resolution of this hotel, of the Melia company, of…?

M – No, it’s a resolution from MINTUR.

R – From the Tourism Ministry?

M – Yes.

R—It’s not from the Communications Ministry?

M – I’ve been given to understand that it comes from MINTUR and ETESCA.

M – Because of the fact that this new type of connection is from ETESCA.

R – OK, and this, how can one dispute this?  See someone about it?

R – Look, I don’t have an argument with you, because after all you are a person who is just doing your job.

M – Yes, you can go to Reception and lodge any complaints you like.

R – Because you know this violates my constitutional rights.

R – Because it’s written in the constitution of our Republic that discrimination based on national origin is prohibited.

R – And I feel discriminated against because my national origin is Cuban.

R – It’s as if they said here: “This Internet is for the whole world except Mexicans.”

R – It’s the same, no?

R – I’m being discriminated against for my national origin

R – There’s not a single law or internal regulation that can supersede the constitutional rights of citizens.

R – Aren’t I right?

M – I’m just that one who has to… I’m just doing my duty.

R – Yes, of course, I know that.

R – OK Raquel, and many thanks and I hope to see you the next time I come here, I’m sure this will be repealed.

M – OK… hopefully… we’ll see…

The Havana Journal proudly supports Yoani and Reinaldo in their efforts to express their freedom of speech and mission to enjoy basic human rights. Sol Melia should be ashamed of their practice to conspire with the Cuban government to restrict internet access to Cuban citizens. A link to this article has been sent to numerous people in management at Sol Melia and other people with authority around the world. We will post a response from Sol Melia if/when we receive one.

  1. Follow up post #1 added on May 12, 2009 by Cubana with 282 total posts

    Rob

    Perhaps you might like to send the link to the European Union. According to this article in the Miami Herald:

    http://www.miamiherald.com/news/americas/cuba/story/1043584.html

    one of the conditions for the EU not to re-inpose diplomatic sanctions next month is for Cubans to have unhindered access to the Internet.


  2. Follow up post #2 added on May 12, 2009 by Val Prieto

    Rob,

    I swear, I could kiss you right now.


  3. Follow up post #3 added on May 12, 2009 by publisher with 3905 total posts

    Hmmm. How about just a handshake? grin

    We have always supported Yoani and I hope this video gets the international legs that it deserves. It is very well done and clearly took a lot of guts to do this.

    Will the Cuban government respond? Can they respond or do they have to live with Yoani because the world is watching… now literally.

    I sent an email to about six Sol Melia email contacts that I could find. We’ll see if they have a reply.

    Any idea why Cuba is not listed as a destination at SolMelia.com? Maybe to avoid US Embargo issues?



    Cuba consulting services

  4. Follow up post #4 added on May 12, 2009 by Steve

    Sol Melia has serious issues regarding Cuba. Some years ago several of their executives were denied access to the US after a skiing trip in Canada meant that they needed to travel via the US back to Spain. They don’t list the hotels on solmelia.com but they have done a whole website for Cuba which is solmeliacuba.com. This was probably to appease the US so as not to promote their Cuba hotels via their known site for fear of it getting blocked like mine were…. Also, instead of using their own booking engine for Cuba they use Fastbooking.net based in the US empire State building, NY. Not sure how they swung that one… You´d think they would be the first to say “hey, hold on here”. As we´ve pointed out the panorama has changed somewhat of late regarding Cuban nationals visiting hotels. Officially they can now stay in them as we all know. I bet this will be a hard one to explain because of this. Image the receptionist greeting Cuban guests at check in “Welcome to Melia Hotels, your room is prepared and here´s the amenities on offer to you: Pool, Sauna, Breakfast Buffet, Discotheque, Gymnasium, lobby, oh sorry, you cannot use the internet…” Odd circumstances indeed and I am looking forward to the official version of the motives…


  5. Follow up post #5 added on May 12, 2009 by publisher with 3905 total posts

    Good point.

    They can use the meeting rooms and phones but not the internet.

    Apparently the Internet is a very dangerous weapon according to the Castro brothers… “the pen is mightier than the sword”.

    In this case the keyboard is mightier than the sword.

    Maybe people should gather at the Melia Habana with their pots and pans and start banging them right in front of the international tourists and make sure the cameras are rolling.

    What would Raul do in that case?



    Cuba consulting services

  6. Follow up post #6 added on May 12, 2009 by Jorge de la Osa

    Rob - It sure seems that the new internet services provider (ETESCA) has added restrictions on who can use the internet at the hotel.  As someone on this thread mentioned, the internet is a big threat to a government that has always controlled all sources of information.  I think your article is good but its focus is a bit misguided.  I have stayed at various Sol Melia Hotels throughout the world and their attention and customer service is always incredible.  As a business owner, I can attest to the fact that, unfortunately, local laws and customs affect the way you run your business.  It is not a hotel chain that is oppressing the Cuban citizens it is their government. A notoriously ruthless government that has failed them and continues making decisions for them that are neither in their best interests nor interested in upholding any constitutional rights or freedoms.


  7. Follow up post #7 added on May 12, 2009 by nacho with 111 total posts

    Sol Melia has long been a ally of the Cuban government when it comes to discriminating against Cubans.
    When Cubans were not allowed in hotels, Sol Melia hotels closely followed that rule and I had to endure the humiliating experience of being asked to leave the Melia Santiago despite of my hotel room booked via Spain (I live in Europe).
    Yes, Sol Melia has a separate division and a separate website to handle their business in Cuba, one trick to circumvent the US embargo.
    The same history could be told of Telecom Italia, the Italian telco that owns (or owned until very recently) a share of ETECSA.
    I once challenged a PR person of Telecom Italia regarding the human rights issues in Cuba including web access ban and phone tapping. He didn’t have a clue of what was going on.


  8. Follow up post #8 added on May 12, 2009 by publisher with 3905 total posts

    Thanks for posting. Who knows, maybe like the “shot heard ‘round the world”, this will be the video seen ‘round the world and now Sol Melia’s feet are being held to the fire.

    Will they side with the Castro government or will they side with hospitality and human rights. Judging by their silence so far, it appears they are siding with the Castro government.



    Cuba consulting services

  9. Follow up post #9 added on May 13, 2009 by cubanpete with 127 total posts

    Tourist Apartheid has returned to Cuba.



    For change (cambio) we can believe in.
    http://www.desdecuba.com/generationy

  10. Follow up post #10 added on May 13, 2009 by nacho with 111 total posts

    It never left.


  11. Follow up post #11 added on May 13, 2009 by Claire

    In the UK the solmelia.com main website does list the full 24 hotels available in Cuba. This suggests that some of us can see them and those that can’t are being blocked.


  12. Follow up post #12 added on May 13, 2009 by publisher with 3905 total posts

    Very interesting. I guess solmelia.com can see my IP address as coming from the US so they block out the Cuba listings.

    Thanks for pointing that out.



    Cuba consulting services

  13. Follow up post #13 added on May 14, 2009 by grant with 48 total posts

    As pointed out by the receptionist on Yoani"s video, The Hotel Presidente is not on the new system and cubans can buy internet time there, however, is it really internet time or just email time?


  14. Follow up post #14 added on May 14, 2009 by grant with 48 total posts

    OR the US government is blocking it? Number 12.


  15. Follow up post #15 added on May 16, 2009 by HavanAndrew

    Not to defend the actions of SolMelia and any other large hotel chain in Cuba but their hands are tied. They made a deal with the devil, for their 49% stake (for a 100% investment in SolMeliaCuba) they have little option in staffing choices. They are given a choice of primarily communist party members. An easy way to explain it is if a rogue union took over a corporation, the policies are more that of the union than that of the corporation.  Any of our non-communist friends that would be best suited for the job would have little to no chance of getting a job there. There are several SolMelia employees at a SolmeliaCuba and they have a limited choice of options regarding sensible policies. SolMelia made a bad investment choice in Cuba, they should write a book, “Why Not To Invest In Cuba”.


  16. Follow up post #16 added on May 17, 2009 by pipefitter with 275 total posts

    I just googled sol melia cuba on internet explorer and came up with 24 sol melia hotels in Cuba. It also has a telephone number in the U.S. 1-888 melia, maybee it is blocked only in the U.S.


  17. Follow up post #17 added on May 19, 2009 by publisher with 3905 total posts

    We have recieved a reply from Meliá Cohiba and have published their email reply with permission:

    From : Ignacio Martín
    General Manager
    Hotel Meliá Cohiba

    Havana City,  May 12 , 2009

    Dear Mr. Sequin:

    We have received your letter by means of our Quality Program.

    First of all, we would like to thank you very much due to the time you were supposed to spend to let us know your impressions and opinions. They help us to improve quality and offer better service to visitors.

    I have read your complaints carefully and I would like to express that Cohiba Hotel does not have any policy concerning the access to Internet.

    Today in our country, there are two ways to get access. The first, is the service the Hotel Cohiba brings. It is out of restrictions.

    The second is referring to a rented place where the proprietor brings services. In this case the policy concerning the access is ruled by the enterprise that supplies us the service. They are predominant, not concerning Sol Meliá.

    We feel deeply sorry because of the facts and the bad time they brought to you in our Hotel.

    Thank you for let us know it, and the possibility of future contacts.

    Sincerely,

    Ignacio Martín
    General Manager
    Meliá Cohiba Hotel

    ————-

    Dear Mr. Sequin
    After consulting our General Manager, Mr. Ignacio Martin, you have permission to publish our reply dated 12th may.
    Anyway we want to inform you that in this moment the Internet access is unrestricted by the supplier no matter the nationality of the clients once the contract terms were changed.



    Cuba consulting services

  18. Follow up post #18 added on May 19, 2009 by nacho with 111 total posts

    Wow, publisher, it is great that you contacted them directly and they actually responded!

    BTW, I wonder if someone in Havana, ie Yoani etc, can go and check this one out.

    I was wondering, what was the policy before? Cubans could use the internet paying in CUC in Havana and then this was stopped?

    As far as I know, in other provinces, Cubans still living in Cuba are not allowed to use ETECSA cybercafes. During all visits to Cuba over the last 4 years I get requests from friends to take them into the cybercafes as they’re not allowed on their own.


  19. Follow up post #19 added on May 19, 2009 by manfredz with 464 total posts

    I believe the policies were totally inconsistent in enforcement.  I remember during my second visit to Cuba in April 2007.  I took a day trip to Santa Clara and while downtown went into the Etecsa office to use the internet.  Two things jumped out at me - first in Varadero I was always asked for my passport and had to sign a log sheet (incl Hotel name) when getting an internet card at the local Etecsa office to use there and the only Cubans I saw using the internet machines were accompanied by tourists.  In Santa Clara, by contrast you just handed over your 5 CUC, no ID request, no signing, and that most of the internet machines were being used by Cubans.

    Interestingly enough, buying a Viazul bus ticket seemed to be the exact opposite.  In Varadero, no ID was requested, and I did not see any Cubans being asked either.  In Santa Clara, the exact opposite.  I was asked for my passport when buying the ticket.  All people entering the Viazul/Atlas departure lounge were asked by a security guard to show the ID cards and tickets, and again these were examined when leaving the departure lounge for the bus bays.


  20. Follow up post #20 added on May 21, 2009 by publisher with 3905 total posts

    The Havana Journal was assisted with Spanish translation in order to follow up with questions to Mr. Martín since there seemed to be a language barrier. Since we were given permission to post his replies earlier, he knew he was on the record so we are posting his follow on replies as well.

    Estimado Ignacio Martín,

    Gracias por su respuesta la cual encontramos altamente ambiguo. En primer lugar, fue un empleado de Sol Meliá, vestido en uniforme de su empresa y trabajando en uno de ellos (Meliá Cohíba) quien denegado el acceso de Internet a las personas quien visitaron el hotel y grabaron el conjunto del escenario. Además, su funcionaria mostró, durante dicha grabación, una resolución o ordenanza que fue enviada a Hoteles Sol Meliá en Cuba para limitar el acceso al Internet a Cubanos residentes en Cuba. No obstante, autorizando extranjeros con sus debidas identificación uso del servicio de Internet. No somos nosotros sino su propia funcionaria quien reveló esta restricción.

    Su funcionaria pidió a las personas si tuvieron pasaporte extranjero y al no tenerlo (solo tuvieron tarjetas de identificación cubanas), su solicitud para pagar y usar internet fue rechazada. Fue funcionaria de Sol Meliá quien implementó dicha restricción en nombre de su cadena y, según ella, cumpliendo directivas del Ministerio de Turismo (MINTUR) y Ministerio de Comunicaciones (MIC) quien, según ella, habían ordenado a sus hoteles restringir el acceso de internet de tal manera a Cubanos residentes en Cuba. Entonces Ignacio, debemos suponer que su funcionaria se equivocó y que cualquier Cubano puede ir a su hotel para pagar su cuota y usar internet y que todo lo grabado solo fue un mal entendido? Nuestro punto aclaratorio es esta pero, lamentablemente, usted no ha respondido a esta pregunta que es la base de este dilema. No obstante, si la restricción implementada en su hotel sigue vigente nos gustaría saber si lo han hecho público (referiremos a Sol Meliá), en el sentido de que han avisado a los medios de comunicación que Sol Meliá es activo en restringir esta libertades que se supone que disponen los cubanos en su propio país.

    Al parecer las medidas de Sol Meliá contrasten con los comentarios de Ramiro Valdez, Su ministro de comunicaciones quien, el día 11 / 02 / 2009 declaró públicamente que;  “Cuba quiere liberar el acceso a Internet, (pero) no lo ha hecho aún por problemas económicos y de ancho de banda”.

    A la espera de su respuesta,

    Le saludo, Atentamente

    Rob

    ————————-

    Apreciado Sr. Seguin,
    De acuerdo a su atento email de fecha 19 de Mayo, tengo a bien recordarle que Sol Meliá División Cuba no tiene ninguna política establecida para la conexión a intenet en sus Hoteles. Dicha política depende solo y exclusivamente del suministrador del servicio en Cuba.
    En estos momentos no existe ninguna restricción en la conexión a Internet para cubanos en el Hotel Meliá Cohiba ( simplemente se les solicita una identificación rutinaria : nombre, apellidos y numero de carné de identidad ), y todo aquel medio de comunicación que se acercado a la Dirección del Hotel solicitando esta información, se le ha echo saber lo arriba expuesto.
    Sin otro particular, reciba un cordial saludo.
    Atentamente,
    ————————-
    Ignacio Martín
    Director General
    Hotel Meliá Cohiba
    tel. (53-7) 833 3636
    Web Hotel:    http://www.melia-cohiba.com
    Web Solmelia: http://www.solmeliacuba.com

    Gracias por su respuesta.

    ————————-

    Obviamente aquí existe alguna confusión. Existe un video de dos Cubanos visitando su hotel para usar internet http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0LpSCqfKPeA hace un par de semanas, este video muestra claramente las restricciones que nos referimos. Siendo tanto que denegaron rotundamente el uso de Internet a quienes no tuvieron pasaporte extranjero. No fue funcionaria del suministrador de Internet quien negó su uso Sr. Martin fue funcionaria de Sol Meliá Cuba, con su uniforme y dentro del hotel Meliá Cohíba. Como le pregunté en el correo anterior, entonces esta funcionaria se equivocó? Las reglas que ella anunciaba en dicha grabación son entonces una creación de ella misma? Los documentos que mostró informando sobre dicha restricción también no eran autenticas? Perdona mi confusión pero su respuesta contradice en su totalidad dicha grabación.

    A la espera de su respuesta

    Le saludo, Atentamente

    ————————-

    Apreciado Sr. Seguin,
    Esta es toda la información que tenemos a disposición en relación al uso de Internet en nuestro Hotel. Le reitero que no existe ninguna restricción al respecto. Si desea alguna otra información, le ruego se ponga en contacto con el suministrador en Cuba de este servicio.
    Atentamente



    Cuba consulting services

  21. Follow up post #21 added on May 25, 2009 by publisher with 3905 total posts

    Yoani has posted that she is getting internet access so that’s great news (with video and comments).

    She writes:

    I’m coming to believe that the influence of the Internet on our reality is bigger than I thought. After several days of not being able to connect to the Internet in hotels such as the Meliá Cohiba, the Panorama and the emblematic Hotel Nacional, the ban seems to have been lifted. Today I spoke with the same employees who two weeks ago showed me the resolution excluding Cubans from using such services at tourist facilities. They told me I can once again buy the blessed card that opens the door to the virtual world.

    I may sound a bit boastful, but I think that if we had not raised a ruckus in recent days—denouncing such apartheid—we would have been deprived of the ability to connect. Yes, they cede when you push back, they have to amend the plan when we citizens raise our voices and the international media hears the echo. We understood this with Gorki’s case, and this correction confirms that our keeping quiet only allows them to snatch away more spaces from us. We need to make the most of the situation, now they are saying “Cubans can connect”, and take it as a public commitment. We must hold them to it and, if not, there will be Twitter, Facebook and text messages for protesting, when they try to shut us out again.

    * On Monday, a dozen bloggers conducted an investigation into more than forty hotels. With the exception of the Occidental Miramar, they all said they were ignoring the regulation that prohibited Cubans from accessing the internet.



    Cuba consulting services

  22. Follow up post #22 added on May 25, 2009 by HavanAndrew

    Bravo Yoani


  23. Follow up post #23 added on May 25, 2009 by publisher with 3905 total posts

    More about the Cuban government’s efforts to shut down bloggers in Cuba.



    Cuba consulting services

  24. Follow up post #24 added on May 26, 2009 by Cubana with 282 total posts

    Well done also to Publisher for publicising this issue. This is what all totalitarian regimes hate - publicity.

    All it takes for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.


  25. Follow up post #25 added on May 26, 2009 by Yeyo with 411 total posts

    Sol Melia is making billions in Cuba like few other large foreign corporations, exploiting the Cuban people with the usual complacency of the Castro Regime. Anybody can invest in Cuba except the Cubans.


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