Correspondent Jim Acosta, “carrying the CNN flag” on the island of Cuba, filed several reports for the American Morning program during the first week of May which slanted favorably towards an end to the trade embargo with the communist country. His May 1 report on the policy that allows Cuban-Americans to travel to their homeland featured no critics of the Castro regime, nor did it mention the government’s human rights abuses. This was also the case during a May 4 report about tourism to the island and how economic competitors of the U.S. are taking advantage of the country’s resources. Acosta even referred to the ailing dictator emeritus Fidel Castro as a “Cuban icon.”
Acosta’s May 1 report, which aired 21 minutes into the 6 am hour of the CNN program, highlighted the Obama administration’s loosening of restrictions for Cuban-Americans who wish to return to the native soil. The correspondent featured one woman who was “taking bundles of food, clothing, and even toys back to her brother and sister on the island,” and emphasized the popularity of charter flights back to Cuba.
Near the end of his report, Acosta underlined the strategy behind this new policy, while making his reference to Fidel Castron as an “icon:”
ACOSTA (voice-over): For most Cuban-Americans, this new-found freedom to see their homeland is part of a White House strategy to get a diplomatic conversation going -- first Cuban to Cuban-American, then maybe nation-to-nation. Cuba has been off-limits to most Americans ever since the U.S. embargo on the island that began in the years following Fidel Castro’s rise to power. It’s a policy that has aged along with the Cuban icon, who has been hospitalized in poor health. But with Fidel’s younger and more pragmatic brother Raul now in charge --
RAUL CASTRO, PRESIDENT OF CUBA (through translation): We will discuss everything, everything, everything.
ACOSTA: And a new president in the White House, a growing number of Cubans and Cuban-Americans are hopeful more change is coming. For now, they’ll settle for Christmas in May.
After his report reran near the end of the 7 pm hour, Acosta went hyperbolic about the effect of the new administration on relations between the United States and Cuba:
ROBERTS: And this is your first time in Cuba. What’s it like? What’s your first reaction?
ACOSTA: That’s right. Well, it’s incredible, as you might expect, John. I’ve never been to Cuba. I’ve only heard my dad talk about it. We went to go see the Cuban baseball team play against the Baltimore Orioles 10 years ago. You know, I’ve got the Buena Vista Social Club on CD. I’m big into Cuban music. My dad always flew the Cuban flag around the house. He’s always been proud of his country, even though he left when he was just 12 years old, and so, it’s amazing to come back here and take in the sights and sounds of what is a very romantic and exotic island.
And talking to people around here, you do get the sense that they feel that something is happening in the United States. When President Obama was elected and inaugurated, it was almost sort of a game changer here on the island. They’ve always been shaking their fist at the United States all these years, and for a moment, the Cubans took a step back and said now, wait a minute, something is different in the United States. Maybe we ought to be paying attention to this.
Three days later on the May 4 edition of American Morning, anchor Kiran Chetry introduced Acosta’s report about how “the rest of the world is already cashing in” with Cuba. The correspondent lined up gushing tourists from other English-speaking countries, and included a sound bite from Democratic Senator Byron Dorgan, a noted critic of the longstanding embargo, who was not identified on-screen. As with his earlier reports, there were no Castro critics, nor where there defenders of the embargo.
KIRAN CHETRY: Welcome back to the Most News in the Morning. Thirty-nine minutes past the hour now. We’ve heard President Obama talk about a new beginning in relations with Cuba, and while Washington tries to improve ties with the communist island, the rest of the world is already cashing in. CNN’s Jim Acosta is live in Havana right now with a look at how this is really, you know, a tourist Mecca for much of the world except us.
JIM ACOSTA: That’s right, Kiran. And on our journey to Cuba, we’ve seen some stunning examples of how America’s biggest competitors are investing heavily in Cuba, from European hotels to Chinese oil drilling operations, but because of the U.S. embargo on Cuba, the Americans can only watch from the sidelines 90 miles away.
ACOSTA (voice-over): If Americans are wondering what it’s like to travel to Cuba, just ask a Canadian.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE 1: There’s a mystique about Cuba, let’s be honest here.
ACOSTA: Or an Australian.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE 2: It’s been a great time -- beautiful country.
ACOSTA: Or South African pro golfer Ernie Els, the star attraction at a Cuban golf tournament, aimed at turning the island into the sport’s next destination.
ERNIE ELS: It’s a great tourist destination. It will be unbelievable that the golf can open over here, especially American golf. And, you know, maybe it’s time for it to open up.
ACOSTA: Every year, foreign travelers escape to Cuba’s exotic shores and Spanish colonial streets, pumping an estimated $2 billion into the island’s economy. So it was no surprise when Cuba’s deputy tourism minister told me the island is ready to welcome back its neighbor to the north.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE 3 (through translation): Our country has always been open. They are the ones that haven’t been able to come.
ACOSTA: Tell a Cuban, ‘take me to the beach,’ and they’ll take you here, Varadero Beach -- the sand belongs to the Cubans, the resort partially owned by a Spanish company. That’s why a growing number of U.S. senators want to end the U.S. travel ban on Cuba, and consider scrapping the 47-year embargo on the island.
SENATOR BYRON DORGAN: We don’t limit the right to travel to China or Vietnam, communist countries.
ACOSTA: But there may be more than travel at stake. China is now a player in Cuba, selling the island these tourist buses. And the Chinese are getting more than cigars out of Cuba -- they’re tapping into the country’s oil reserves. When it comes to business, Cuba is changing its tune. Once known for its classic cars, the island is no longer just a time machine to the past, leaving the U.S. with a choice -- shift a decades-old policy, or let sleeping dogs lie.
ACOSTA (on-camera): Now, the next chapter of U.S.-Cuba relations won’t be easy, as a former ambassador from Canada to Cuba told me. It’s complicated. As both sides start talking, old controversies are going to rise to the surface. Kiran?
CHETRY: Yeah, that’s always the case, isn’t it? All right. Jim Acosta for us in Havana today, thanks so much.