Katcho Achadjian's Cuba itinerary included cigar factory, salsa lessons

bmorem@thetribunenews.comApril 9, 2013 

Assemblyman Katcho Achadjian, R-San Luis Obispo, takes the oath of office Monday, Dec. 3, 2012, in Sacramento.

JEFF WALTERS

Assemblyman Katcho Achadjian’s recent trip to Cuba featured a visit to a cigar-making factory, salsa dance lessons, rooftop cocktails at a Havana hotel and a tour of a castle.

The San Luis Obispo legislator also met artists, musicians and former government officials in the six-day trip to the island nation.

An online news site, CalWatchdog.com, posted a story over the weekend reporting that Achadjian and a state senator traveled to Cuba over spring break on what “one Capitol source described as a ‘super-secret trip.’ The source, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said that participants ‘shredded their itineraries when they landed.’ ”

But Achadjian promptly produced the itinerary when The Tribune requested it on Tuesday.

Achadjian said he was with seven other legislators as well as business people who took a cultural tour of Cuba. The itinerary indicates most of their time was spent in Havana.

The trip was organized by a nonprofit organization called Californians Building Bridges. That group was formed by Darius Anderson, one of Sacramento’s top lobbyists.

Anderson represents some firms that, in the past, have donated to Achadjian. The lawmaker said he did not see any conflict with going on the trip because it did not relate to any of Anderson’s lobbying efforts. Furthermore, Achadjian said he paid for the trip himself.

That’s true. However, the Assemblyman “used campaign funds to pay for his expenses on the delegation trip to Cuba,” said Achadjian’s chief of staff, Craig Swaim. “Doing so is consistent with FPPC (Fair Political Practices Commission) regulations related to the use of such funds and the expenditure was reported accordingly. While no lobbying occurred on the trip, to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest, he has fully reimbursed his campaign using personal funds.”

According to Tara Stock of the FPPC, “Under the Political Reform Act, the general rule is that elected state officials (including members of the Legislature) and legislative employees may not accept a gift or gifts totaling more than $10 in a calendar month from any individual who is registered as a lobbyist under state law; otherwise, the Act does not limit socializing or otherwise spending time with lobbyists.” The gift fact sheet can be found at fppc.ca.gov/factsheets/StateGiftFactSheet2013.pdf.

As to the anonymous allegations about the trip being secret with ripped-up itineraries, Achadjian explained that “the trip was fully sanctioned by the U.S. Treasury Department; when asked about the trip, my staff did not hesitate to confirm my participation; and, I have been forthcoming when asked about the purpose of the trip.

“Any suggestion that the trip was secret or unsubstantiated reports that participants shredded their itineraries upon return is ludicrous and not based in fact.”

Katcho Achadjian's Cuba itinerary

Here is the itinerary prepared for his trip:

  • Friday, March 22 | Miami/Havana: arrive Jose Marti Airport, Havana; check in to hotel; welcome reception; welcome orientation and overview of the week’s activities with local guide and CBB representatives.
  • Saturday, March 23 | Havana: Visit of Old Havana/residential neighborhoods; meet with local residents, book sellers, and artists; visit Conde Villaneuva; meeting with Master Cigar Blender (rum/cigar tasting/demonstration); visit Plaza de Arms, book market, handicraft market: lunch meeting w/ Miguel Coyula, former director of the Center for Urban Planning; location: Café Oriente; continue visiting Old Havana (Visit Catholic Cathedral); rooftop cocktails, Santa Isabell Hotel; dinner, Private Paladar (Old Havana); evening, enjoy the sounds of a local Cuban band in Cathedral Square.
  • Sunday, March 24 | Havana: Visit Fine Arts Museum; meet with local curators and historians; lunch with special guest: Dr. Carlos Alzugaray Treto, professor at the Center for Hemispheric and USA Studies at the University of Havana; visit Morro Castle; meet with local artists; Calle Hamel, Rumba dance; visit artists private home studios, meet with local artists; dinner and private concert with Carlos Varela.
  • Monday, March 25 | Havana: Visit Museum of the Revolution; meet with local guide and curator; visit Temple Beth Shalom, meet with local leader; lunch meeting with former director, U.S. Purchasing; visit Rum Museum; visit local organic farm and farmer’s market; Salsa lessons; dinner, El Alijbe; evening, Tropicana.
  • Tuesday, March 26 | Option 1, Havana: visit Museo de Hemingway, meet with local guide and curator; visit Martin Luther Center, meet with Daisy Rojas, center director; lunch with Jose Fuster (contemporary Cuban artist), option: attend baseball game and meetings with local athletes (schedule permitting), option: visit with Jose Ernesto, master craftsman, at Humidor Factory, option: visit Hemingway’s Old Town Havana, meet with local Cuban merchants; dinner, Local Paladar.
  • Tuesday, March 26 | Option 2, Day trip to Vinales Valley: Drive to the Vinales Valley; sugar cane demonstration; meet with local farmer; enjoy boat ride through caves; meet with local guide and residents; lunch in Vinales; visit tobacco plantation and meet with local farmers; return to Havana; dinner, Local Paladar.
  • Wednesday, March 27 | Havana: Airport transfer.

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