Friday, July 16, 2010

"We are Refugees"

There's plenty of news to unpack about the released Cuban prisoners in Spain so let's get to it. First, there's one important matter to settle: were the released Cuban political prisoners given the option to stay in Cuba or were they coerced to emigrate to Spain?

The last few days of reports indicate that the Cuban political prisoners were likely coerced into becoming political refugees in Spain. Initial reports had indicated that the option to leave Cuba was "a proposal" (words of Cardinal Jaime Ortega) and that political prisoners "could go to Spain if they wish" (words of Miguel Angel Moratinos). What seems to be left out is the fact that political prisoners were given two cruel options: leave Cuba immediately or stay in prison and suffer until who knows when.

[The Cuba Triangle also has a good analysis on this matter, with a different conclusion.]

A recent report from Fernando Ravsberg (BBC Mundo) inside Cuba asks the important question: What happens to the dissidents who want to stay? The answer for the moment is we don't know yet. More than five prisoners have rejected the proposal to leave Cuba. In the meantime, Ravsberg gives us a picture into how some of the released political prisoners were contacted. According to the wife of one liberated prisoner, Cardinal Ortega personally called all political prisoners "and demand[ed] an answer at the very moment."

Ravsberg's interview with another wife of a political prisoner fills in the rest. "On the 2nd of July I told [Cardinal Ortega] that my husband would not accept leaving Cuba. I was given no reply, he just looked at me and said nothing."

Now in Spain, the released political prisoners are making important revelations about Cuban prison conditions, and how they desire to return to Cuba and continue their struggle to free all political prisoners. These are not the comments of men who were given a choice to leave "if they wish."

One former prisoner spoke of "subhuman facilities. You didn't have light, nor drinking water. You didn't know who was in the neighboring cell. You were isolated from everything." The effects of such isolation are apparent in one of the released prisoners, Antonio Villareal, who seems to refuse to leave his room at the Spanish hostel. "They have psychologically destroyed him," his friends say. Today, the former political prisoners spoke about how their "cells were rat- and roach-infested and that disease was rampant." Some prisoners were clearly physically deteriorated from disease, such as Jose Luis Garcia Paneque. Another prisoner released inside Cuba last month, Ariel Sigler, was seen in worse conditions due to polyneuropathy, [edit] possibly caused by horrible prison conditions.

But, in the end, these former political prisoners want to eventually return to Cuba and help free all political prisoners who continue suffering inside Cuban jails. They also desire economic, social and political changes inside Cuba. But, they are not militants. They are not calling for all Cubans to march in the streets and protest or rebel.

"These liberations [of political prisoners] do not mean an improvement of human rights in Cuba. It's a first step to restart the dialogue between Cuba and the European Union."

(Don't expect to hear that "dialogue" word in Miami. This evening I didn't hear it reported in the evening news reports by Univision23 or Telemnudo51.)

(Also, these cases, in my opinion, are not forced exile. Manuel Zelaya [June 2009] being forced out by soldiers in his pajamas and flown to Costa Rica [in violation of the Honduran constitution, Article 102] is forced exile.)

[Photo of Julio Cesar Galvez by Reuters]

Monday, July 12, 2010

Olga Guillot (1922 - 2010)

It is a sad day for all Cubans. This afternoon it was reported that Olga Guillot, considered one of the most famous Cuban singers alongside Celia Cruz, died of a heart attack today at the age of 87.

Listening to the reports in the local Spanish media it's obvious that many in the Cuban exile community are deeply saddened by this loss. But, along with her musical talents, many are remembering Guillot for her politics. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen says: "There will never be another Olga Guillot. Her patriotism, love for her homeland, talented voice and caring heart will be missed." And, Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart remembers that "above all, Olga Guillot was a Cuban patriot." Several callers to Radio Mambi today made the same references to Guillot's patriotism.

Guillot was intransigent when it came to Cuba, and many in Miami loved her for that. According to El Nuevo Herald, a friend said Guillot's house in Cuba was repossessed in 1960, and soon thereafter she decided to leave and she never went back.

I've always read more about Guillot's politics than her music here in Miami. (This is the result of the coordinated anti-Castro propaganda that thrives in the local Spanish media.) When the "Peace without Borders" concert was about to take place in Cuba last year (dubbed the "Concert of Discord" by the local Spanish media), Olga Guillot was given an increased amount of airtime on TV and radio because she opposed the concert. (After the concert, a poll of Cuban-Americans showed a majority with favorable views of the concert.)

When the concert was over, she was asked in an interview about it. Guillot said that she was not impressed by the presentations and described the whole thing as "bien pobre" (very poor or poorly done). Guillot expressed the reasons for her political intransigence: she would never return as long as "the [Castro] regime" was in power. And, when asked what she thought of Cucu Diamantes, a young Cuban-American artist who traveled to Cuba to perform at the "Peace Without Borders" concert, she replied that Diamantes "has no character, and if she does then she is 'una infiltrada' (an infiltrator or spy)... here there are many people, many people who have been against the Cuba exile community because we are against that concert."

When asked what Guillot would do if she ever ran into any of the artists, such as Juanes or Olga Tañon, from the concert in Cuba, she replied: "Nothing. I am not going to see them as persons, or people. To me they are already strangers."

But, despite being mostly intransigent about Cuba, Guillot was also someone who could see beyond Cuban politics. In April 2009 it was reported that Olga Guillot and Omara Portuondo (another famous Cuban artist and supporter of the Cuban government) "embraced after 48 years separated spiritually and territorially."

The power of music can bring people together, if only for a while. Even the most intransigent.

--- Olga Guillot, in her own words ---

"God knows that we all want to [celebrate] in a free Cuba. But, since it will not happen, at least here [in exile] we can give each other greetings, the fraternal embrace of us all [Cubans] so we can feel alive. And we are loyal to our homeland, loyal to our traditions and to our roots because that is the only thing we should not forget.

"When they hear us say 'la Cuba mia' [that Cuba of mine] its because that Cuba of mine was so beautiful and so different to that Cuba of ours that suffers so much. And, one of the things that makes me sad is knowing that Cuba has not been lost, but kidnapped. Our island was kidnapped.

"I carry inside me and in my heart a map, [shaped like an alligator], I love that alligator, a beautiful alligator, I love her, Cuba, always Cuba.

[Photo courtesy of]

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Cuba Will Free 52 Political Prisoners [Updated]

The news yesterday came as a big surprise to almost everyone including Guillermo Fariñas, the hunger striker who in February initially demanded the release of 26 political prisoners reportedly ill. Now, according to Radio Marti, Fariñas will stop his hunger strike once "10 to 12 prisoners" are reported free. But, once Cuban dissident Laura Pollan (photo) heard the news of this possible mass liberation (which includes her husband), she called Fariñas and told him: "Trust a little bit... Stop the hunger strike. You are more valuable alive than dead."

Just like those moments of joy when an expert negotiator successfully gains the release of hostages, yesterday may soon be celebrated as a big political victory for Spain's minister of foreign affairs Miguel Angel Moratinos and Cuba's catholic leader Jaime Ortega for their negotiated release of Amnesty International's Cuban "prisoners of conscience." But, just like a hostage situation, more difficult problems lie in the background that prisoner exchanges cannot solve. The militant or hard-liner would say that the problem is simply solved through force or coercion, while others may propose less rigid alternatives. Spain's Miguel Angel Moratinos has chosen dialogue, and has scored big. Here in Miami we should expect a devastating blow to militancy.

So what does Cuba gain from releasing 52 political prisoners who have been unfairly incarcerated since 2003?

Well, we cannot say for certain what details were discussed between Moratinos, Ortega and Raul Castro that led to this possible mass liberation, but there are some hints. The most obvious being the potential end of the European Union's "common position" towards Cuba which Moratinos has vowed to permanently lift. Yesterday, Moratinos made it clear that the "common position" is no longer justified, mainly because before traveling to Cuba Moratinos made a deal with other EU members: "They told me that if the problem of [Cuban political] prisoners was solved the Common Position would be lifted." The EU will be reviewing the "common position" in September after Moratinos delayed the vote from June expecting promising results from the ongoing negotiations. Lifting or revising the "common position" will allow Cuba to extend economic cooperation with EU nations at a time when it desperately needs it.

Thus, focus on the economy is the other possible reason Raul Castro has negotiated this prisoner release. As Cuba expert Jorge I. Dominguez explained last month at a conference that discussed the Cuban economy, finding a solution (albeit short-term) to international condemnation of Cuba's human rights violations was important to achieve a greater goal: "President Raul Castro's desire to focus on problems--such as the economy with its declining growth rate--that are central to his office and remove others that distract from this."

And finally, this is another ideological victory for supporters of increasing dialogue with the Cuban government, especially once all 52 political prisoners are finally freed.[Reports indicate that prisoners are not being forced into exile as a condition for their release, but are free to choose emigration to Spain.] History has shown that the Cuban government has repeatedly sought out favorable partners to negotiate with and address certain problems, such as political prisoners. Mass liberation of Cuban prisoners occurred in the 70s and 90s with different types of negotiating partners, and the potential exists today. But, negotiating the release of prisoners ignores the central problem: historically fraught U.S.-Cuba relations.

The U.S. must eventually accept other political alternatives to using force or coercion against the Cuban government. Negotiation and dialogue are alternatives that may yield good results. So why wait any longer?

[Press Release by the Cuban Catholic Church on the release of political prisoners.]

[Recent list of Amnesty International's Cuban "Prisoners of Conscience," the list includes Ariel Sigler and Darsi Ferrer who were recently freed from prison. Rolando Jimenez Posada is the only prisoner not scheduled to be released.]

[Update: Guillermo Fariñas has ended his hunger strike Thursday, July 8, according to Yoani Sanchez, and other reports from Cuba's dissidents.]

[Photo by Reuters]

Friday, June 11, 2010

Fariñas versus Radio Mambi [Updated]

An interesting interview/debate occurred this afternoon on Radio Mambi. Guillermo Fariñas, the Cuban dissident currently on a hunger strike (which has already passed 100 days) was interviewed by Ninoska Perez-Castellon today on Radio Mambi, and basically told to explain his recent actions in support of H.R. 4645.

Anya Landua French on The Havana Note blog has some details about what happened, and how some hard-line/militant exiles are surprised by the recent letter by Cuban dissidents in support of this bill.

Click here to hear audio of the Radio Mambi interview with Guillermo Fariñas.

[Excerpt of debate below]

Ninoska: You [Fariñas] have signed a letter supporting the bill [H.R. 4645] to reform [U.S] travel restrictions and promote trade. And this bill is supported by organizations whose only interests... are commercial and not the welfare of the Cuban people. I don't know if you all are aware of that.

Fariñas: We are aware of that Ninoska.

Ninoska: Then you are in agreement that credits be allowed to the [Cuban] regime.

Fariñas: The letter that I signed spoke nothing about credits.


Ninoska: Yes it does. You didn't see it, but...

Fariñas: The letter I signed says nothing about credits.

Ninoska: Well, the letter where your signature appears supports the bill that is asking it be given...

Fariñas: Supports the bill, but it says nothing about credits.

Ninoska: But Fariñas I'm trying to explain that this letter doesn't say it, but this bill in Congress is seeking to give credits to the Cuban government. [And] that is what the letter says.

[More related posts at the Cuban Triangle here and here.]

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Cuban Dissidents Support H.R. 4645 [Updated]

Haven't seen this reported on Radio Marti yet.

Seventy-four Cuban dissidents have signed a letter in support of H.R. 4646, the Travel Restriction Reform and Export Enhancement Act. This bill was also supported by the Conference of Catholic Bishops [PDF of letter] and Human Rights Watch back in March.

The Havana Note and El Yuma blog have all the details. Ted Henken of El Yuma blog describes some of the names that stand out:

"The bloggers associated with DesdeCuba/ Juan Juan Almeida, Claudia Cadelo, Dimas Castellanos, Miriam Celaya, Martha Cortizas, Reinaldo Escobar, Eugenio Leal, Pablo Pacheco, and Yoani Sánchez; the well-known government critics and opposition figures Elizardo Sánchez Santa Cruz, Manuel Cuesta Morúa, Héctor Palacios, Oscar Espinosa Chepe, Miriam Leiva, Guillermo Fariñas, and Félix Bonne Carcassés; leaders of Convivencia (the new on-line project of the original Vitral group) Karina Gálvez, Virgilio Toledo, and Dagoberto Valdés; and the Santiago priest José Conrado."


Radio Marti has provided not one but TWO reports concerning this letter of support by Cuban dissidents. The first one mentions the letter and some of its more popular signatories, and includes an interview with signatory Dagoberto Valdez, the director of the wonderful online magazine Convivencia (Co-Existence).

The second report is about the Center for Democracy in the Americas (CDA) and their support of the letter. The report includes an interview with Sarah Stephens, executive director of the CDA.

Hooray for Radio Marti! Though they should report more often about how Cubans in general oppose US policy towards Cuba.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

One Last Chance

The Spanish presidency at the Council of the European Union ends this month, and before they leave they want one last chance to change the EU's "common position" towards Cuba. But, it won't be easy, especially when you still have South Florida's favorite Congressmen, Rep. Mario and Lincoln Diaz-Balart, ready to thwart any policy changes towards Cuba.

Of course, there are several factors that will result in any possible change to the EU's policy towards Cuba, some of which were outlined last June. But, the Spanish government is hoping that other European nations will take notice of recent events inside Cuba, namely the Cuban government's negotiations with the Catholic Church to alleviate the harsh conditions of a few political prisoners. Spain's minister of foreign affairs, Miguel Angel Moratinos, believes that the "common position" is not working and that increased dialogue between Cuba and European nations would yield better results to achieve changes inside Cuba. As an example, Moratinos highlights the decrease in the number of political prisoners since Spain's new policy of dialogue with Cuba. (In 2008, the release and exile of four Cuban political prisoners was attributed to talks between Cuban and Spanish diplomats.)

But, this past Saturday the debate over EU policy towards Cuba got a bit nasty.

The EU and the U.S. held their regular bi-annual meeting of the Transatlantic Legislators' Dialogue (TLD) over in Madrid. It was a three-day conference where European and American legislators could discuss important global issues and achieve the goals of "strengthening cooperation" (at least that's part of what the TLD mission entails). Miguel Angel Moratinos was present for Saturday's session on foreign policy which was titled "Reducing Tensions in Distinct Geographic Areas." One of those areas was Cuba, and tensions at the event increased.

Reports are not very clear, but during this meeting Reps. Mario and Lincoln Diaz-Balart made statements in opposition to changing EU policy towards Cuba. According to Lincoln, the statements were directed towards the EU representatives and not at Moratinos. But within the statements was a direct reference to Miguel Angel Moratinos and at some point Mario directs a question to Moratinos asking him a question related to Cuba.

At this point it seems that Moratinos interpreted the protest by the Daiz-Balarts as a personal attack and responded back loudly. Reports indicate that Moratinos described Mario as "ignorant" and later, after the session, continued to insult him. Lincoln's version of the story, which he also repeated for Radio Marti, says that Moratinos spoke with an "insolent and offensive tone." But, today on Radio Mambi, Lincoln told Ninoska Perez-Castellon that Moratinos was so angry he was shaking.

If I were Moratinos I would also have little patience with Reps. Mario and Lincoln Diaz-Balart.

When it comes to Cuba, both Diaz-Balarts are only capable of protest and not dialogue. It is very clear from Lincoln's version of the story that both Diaz-Balart brothers came only to protest Moratinos and not have a dialogue. Promoting dialogue and cooperation with the EU is the ultimate goal of the TLD meetings, and the Diaz-Balart brothers chose to ignore those ideals.

The offensive language by Moratinos towards U.S. Congressmen is unfortunate, but a typical response (familiar in Miami) when one meets an "intransigent" on Cuba policy. This incident should only remind us again that our political decorum should rise above insults and impatience.

--- [Addendum]---

On Thursday, Miguel Angel Moratinos is planning to meet with Cuba's foreign minister Bruno Rodriguez. After that meeting Moratinos will join Spanish president Zapatero at the Vatican where both Spanish diplomats will meet with Pope Benedict XXVI to discuss the human rights situation in Cuba, among other topics. These talks are in preparation for next week's EU decisions to possibly change the "common position" towards Cuba.

Thursday, June 3, 2010


I won't get into the details over Monday's violent confrontation between the Free Gaza Movement flotilla and the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF). But, I will say that there is a larger context to consider in this case, and it is very likely that the Israeli government violated international law when they intercepted the flotilla.

But, despite the growing global condemnation against the Israeli government, here in Miami some Cuban exiles militants are quickly coming to the defense of the IDF raid. On Wednesday, Radio Mambi's Ninoska Perez Castellon dedicated her entire hour-long show in defense of the IDF raid, and even the Babalu blog has dedicated some posts in support of the raid. For years hardline Cuban exiles have looked at Jewish political intransigence as an inspirational model, even going so far to equate Cuba's internal situation as genocidal.

But, sometimes the level of apologetics for their ideological allies becomes absurd and callous.

On Tuesday, the Nuevo Accion blog, a news and tabloid website about Cuba wrote a post that revealed outright contempt for their readers. They presented recent photos of an injured and bloodied American student Emily Henochowicz. Emily was hit in the eye with a tear gas canister during a demonstration in Jerusalem in support of the Free Gaza flotilla and was photographed bleeding severely from her left eye.

But, according to Nuevo Accion (directed by Aldo Rosado Tuero, above) if you look closely at the photographs "it is not blood, but instead red paint... and what she is holding is a handkerchief completely soaked with red paint."

Of course, don't expect Nuevo Accion to provide any convincing evidence for their callous accusation. Instead, Nuevo Accion expects you to believe that the mainstream media is conspiring against the Israeli government.

If there is one consistent characteristic of militant ideology, it is their constant perception of conspiracy by an overwhelming enemy, regardless of any contrary evidence.

[More information on Emily Henochowicz's condition.]

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Film Review: Oscar's Cuba

Last month I went to the Tower Theater in Little Havana and saw the documentary Oscar's Cuba directed by Jordan Allott and John Gyovai. In sum, it was a decent hour-long introduction to a few of Cuba's old and new dissidents, with Oscar Elias Biscet (now serving a 25-year sentence since 2002) as its central figure. But, the project clearly suffers from the fact that independent film-making inside Cuba is difficult (due to its politically repressive climate) and therefore had to be shot clandestinely, and the obvious fact that its central character is behind bars and was unable to directly participate with the filming. As a result, the documentary is not really about Oscar Elias Biscet, but instead about the general hardships of Cuba's internal dissidents which Oscar's story seems to symbolize.

But why Oscar?

This is a question I immediately asked myself after noticing that the documentary spent a considerable amount of time NOT talking about Oscar Elias Biscet. Instead, the film included interviews with several other Cuban dissidents not related to Oscar's story, such as young dissidents Yoani Sanchez, Claudia Caudelo, Gorki Aguilar, and older ones like Armando Valladares and Oswaldo Paya. And, the film dedicated time to Cuba's 2003 Black Spring and the Ladies in White movement, both events not related to Oscar Elias Biscet. In fact, given the attention other dissidents received, the film could have easily been titled "Yoani's Cuba" or "Oswaldo's Cuba."

But, after some research, it soon became apparent why Oscar Elias Biscet became the central figure: Biscet is a pro-life activist that compares abortion to genocide. And this is also the main reason why many other people, namely "conservatives," support Oscar Elias Biscet.

Jordan Allott, the film's co-director and executive producer, has mentioned repeatedly in interviews and speeches that he became aware of Cuba's internal dissidents through the pro-life activism of Oscar Elias Biscet. Jordan Allott and his twin brother Daniel (associate producer of Oscar's Cuba) are both pro-life activists themselves. Jordan and Daniel make faith-inspired documentaries for In Altum Productions, while Daniel also works for the non-profit organization American Values, which mainly writes articles for "conservative" magazines and declares that "from any perspective abortion is wrong."

As a result, fund-raising and promotion for Oscar's Cuba has mainly occurred within "conservative" circles, such as writing articles for the American Spectator and networking with hardline Cuban exiles, such as Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart. In fact, after a successful fund-raising event in Miami last year, Jordan Allott was able to include interviews from three of the most hardline, pro-embargo activists in the U.S.: former Cuban political prisoner Armando Valladares, former Interest Section chief James Cason, and Rep. Chris Smith of New Jersey. Just like Allott, Rep. Smith is a big supporter of Oscar Elias Biscet, and is also pro-life.

Therefore, the film presents a very specific, hardline perspective about Cuba's internal political repression: that the Cuban government strictly represses dissent without restraint on its brutality or sympathy for its victims or families.

But, the truth is more complex than that. Over the years, Cuba has dealt with political prisoners very differently, sometimes negotiating their release with Cuban exiles, or with other foreign governments. And, as we can see now, the Cuban government is also open to negotiating prisoners with the American government, or even their prison conditions with the Catholic Church in Cuba. This long history is not mentioned in the Allott documentary.

Instead, when I left the Tower Theater after the film had finished I felt depressed. Oscar's Cuba left the impression that there was virtually little hope for Cuba's political prisoners. And, the few internal dissidents mentioned in the film also revealed how little influence they have inside Cuba's repressive system.

But, the documentary's official website gives us some suggestions on how to help Cuba's political prisoners. Let's review those suggestions:

1) Spread the word and hold a screening of Oscar's Cuba - In my opinion this would not be much help because the film is depressing without a larger context, and it would be difficult to place Cuba's political prisoners over greater world concerns, such as global poverty and international tensions.

2) Get political - This section of the website suggests writing letters to the U.S. and Cuban governments, and human rights organizations. This is better than the first suggestion, but the U.S. government holds zero influence in these matters due to its hardline position on Cuba. The Cuban government itself is unlikely to make any changes because the general Cuban population is not concerned over its political prisoners. And, human rights organizations are also generally ignored by the Cuban government.

3) Pray - It couldn't hurt, but its already been over 7 years (!) for those political prisoners arrested in the Black Spring.

The awful truth is that our hands (in the U.S.) are tied. The fate of Cuba's political prisoners depends on changes inside Cuba, and the hope that someone will effectively transmit how prisoners and their families suffer to the ears of the Cuban government.

--- [Addendum] ---

There's a great short documentary about Cuba dissident Oswaldo Paya called Dissident: Oswaldo Paya and the Varela Project [Video: Part 1 and 2]. It packs so much in just 10 minutes. It was directed by Heidi Ewing and Produced by Rachel Grady, the same team that has since made other wonderful documentaries.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Throwing Money at the Problem [Updated]

As usual, the Cuban Triangle by Phil Peters provides essential information about Cuba and U.S. policy towards Cuba, and two recent posts made me think about how expensive U.S. policy towards Cuba can be, and without any measure of its effectiveness.

In this post, Peters notices that the 20th(!) anniversary of TV Marti, the U.S.-funded television station that transmits a variety of programs to Cuba (and which seems to lack an audience), passed last week without anyone else noticing. Surprised? (I myself couldn't find any mention of it on their website, or in the archives.) "But the program chugs on, about $10 million per year, a monument to the idea that in this corner of U.S. foreign policy, intentions can count for more than results," concludes Peters.

[Radio and TV Marti's estimated budget last year was $34.8 million, this year the Office of Cuba Broadcasting has requested $32.4 million [PDF, Broadcasting Board of Governors 2010 budget requests]

And in an earlier post, Peters notes how USAID, the government-funded agency that provides "foreign assistance" to a host of countries, has proposed $20 million for "civil society initiatives" inside Cuba. Peters links to a copy of the budget plan [PDF] and it seems that $1.7 million will be directed towards Cuba's political prisoners and their families, such as the Ladies in White. (One can immediately imagine how the Cuban government will react to this plan.)

Other funds go to organizations like Freedom House and the International Republican Institute. But, Peters argues that President Obama should restore "people-to-people" licenses (suspended since 2003) and allow American civil society to travel to Cuba, and do for free what we are now paying millions for without any indication of effectiveness.

But, what concerns me most is the appearance that USAID is essentially funding Cuba's dissident groups, and this can become problematic on many levels. But, most importantly how do Americans feel about their government supporting a dissident movement in Cuba?

One analysis of polling data found that American don't really approve of government support towards dissidents of a non-democratic country. Instead, a majority of Americans seem to favor democracy-promoting efforts that are more cooperative and (not surprisingly) multilateral in nature towards countries that are headed towards democracy.


The Cuban Triangle links to a recent article from Laura Rozen at Politico describing the temporary hold on USAID initiatives towards Cuba. The article says that the Cuba plans are under review and quotes a "former senior State Department official" saying:

"These are counterproductive programs...are completely ineffective coming from the U.S.," the former official said. They are done in a "ham-handed" way that is ineffectual and causes a backlash against the [Cuban] civil society activists they intend to support.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Among the Marchers

When Luis Posada Carriles attended the Miami demonstration last week in solidarity with the Damas de Blanco many news outlets noticed, such as the Miami Herald, Reuters (photo above), local station WPLG Channel 10, and others.

But, BBC Mundo (Luis Fajardo) was able to interview Luis Posada briefly. In the interview Posada said: "I am strongly supporting freedom, and freedom in the United States, and over in Cuba. Soon we shall be free. Viva Cuba libre!"

In the photo above, it seems that Posada also gave an interview to U.S.-funded Radio and TV Marti. I haven't yet found that audio, but I am curious to hear it.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Gloria's March for the Ladies in White

"Tens of thousands" came out this late afternoon to march in Little Havana, according to The Miami Herald. Other local reports say approximately 100,000.

After this successful demonstration, I'm thinking to myself: Will Gloria Estefan emerge as the newest leader of the next generation of Cuban exiles?

[Video of march among the crowd by Wencesloacruzblanco]
[Video from Famaus marching alongside Gloria Estefan]
[Video from Cubademocratic]
[Video from Univision23, WPLG Channel 10 and The Miami Herald]
[Photo by Getty Images]

Today's Detour

The FP Cuba blog, one of my favorite Cuba blogs, briefly answers some very important questions about Cuba's future.

[Photo (by Getty Images) of Cuban audience at the recent Calle 13 concert in Havana. AP story here.]

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Gloria Supports Ladies in White [Updated]

World-renowned singer Gloria Estefan appeared before the press on Tuesday expressing her strong support for the Ladies in White (wives and relatives of Cuba's political prisoners), and to express her solidarity Estefan is organizing a demonstration on Thursday in Little Havana.

Alfonso Chardy from the Herald notes that "it's not often that a world-class celebrity like singer Gloria Estefan talks about Cuba," and its true. Gloria Estefan has mostly kept herself out of politics, but her personal opinion about the Cuban government has been made clear:

"[Fidel Castro] just needs to go away... I wish he would, that would be the best for the Cuban people, obviously, with no violence and no bloodshed."

Which puts Estefan's ideology along with hardliners (many of whom were present at the press conference), and not exactly with the militants (some of whom were also present at the press conference). But, Gloria Estefan's description of Cuba yesterday [from Herald video] as a country where "the Cuban people ... are enslaved right now" is an exaggeration more likely to come from militants.

But, Cuban exiles of all political stripes are invited to march on Thursday in Little Havana, a demonstration which seems to be part of a larger effort to keep Cuba's political prisoners in the headlines. Since the recent death of political prisoner Orlando Zapata Tamayo and the international outrage that followed, some Cuban exile organizations (and other political hard-liners) have made it clear that this is an opportune time to highlight Cuba's human rights record, and justify the use of political sanctions on the island nation.

Of course, the recommendations by human rights organizations to improve the desperate situation of Cuba's political prisoners are totally ignored. But, the message of a "free Cuba" that will be often heard at the march should be clear: a Cuba free from Fidel and Raul Castro. Until then, the U.S. government shouldn't change a thing about its policy towards Cuba. Welcome to Little Havana, everyone.

(Telemundo51, in an obvious promotional stunt, asks viewers if they will attend Thursday's march: 75% say "yes.")


The Miami Herald and El Nuevo Herald websites will be live-streaming the march tomorrow, and local news stations are planning to provide live coverage during the march which begins at 6pm. It will be interesting to see what effect this maximum coverage will have in Miami and Cuba.

[Gloria Estefan interviewed on Maria Elvira Live!]

[Photo by AP, Ladies in White march in Havana.]

Friday, March 19, 2010

Black Spring 2010

The Ladies in White have been marching this entire week protesting the arrest of 75 Cuban dissidents in 2003. The massive political repression seven years ago, now known as the "Black Spring," was (and continues to be) widely condemned across the world, but has left its direct victims and families without recourse, and desperate.

Amnesty International again has called for the release of all Cuban political prisoners, many of whom were arrested in 2003, and to revoke its laws that authorize political repression. But, it should be clear to readers that Amnesty International (AI) and Human Rights Watch (HRW) have long ago presented their recommendations on improving the plight of Cuba's political dissidents.

I have addressed them before and will repeat them:

- AI believes "the US embargo has helped to undermine the enjoyment of key civil and political rights in Cuba by fueling a climate in which such fundamental rights as freedom of association, expression and assembly are routinely denied" and that "any tightening of the existing sanctions would only heighten the negative human rights impact of the embargo." Thus, US policy creates "a situation in which perceived external aggression is met with increased internal repression of dissent." [AI 2003 report that recommends the end of the U.S. embargo.]

- HRW believes "the US must end its failed embargo policy. It should shift the goal of its Cuba strategy away from regime change and toward promoting human rights. In particular, it should replace its sweeping bans on travel and trade with Cuba with more effective forms of pressure." [HRW 2009 report that recommends a multilateral policy of smart sanctions.]

It should come to no surprise then that the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has recently written a letter to the European Union, and not the White House, urging the European countries to pressure Cuba to release political prisoners and enact reforms.

With our current policy the U.S. has no influence over Cuba, and has virtually abandoned the Ladies in White.

[CPJ 2008 Report on "Cuba's Long Black Spring"]
[BBC report on Wednesday's protest (video)]
[Photo of Reina Luisa Tamayo, mother of Orlando Zapata, by Javier Galeano/AP]

Thursday, March 18, 2010

1961: Funds for UM Cuban Exiles

Here's an interesting report from the archives. On March 17, 1961, the Miami News printed this AP story about "a grant of $75,000 to the University of Miami for the next six months, when the government will determine what further action may be required."

According to the article, a government program was approved for "maximum use of scholars and other professionally trained Cubans" already at UM and "developed from instructions issued by [President] Kennedy early last month."

The relevant background here is that the incoming Kennedy administration had already been handed the Eisenhower plans for a covert military operation against Cuba, and President Kennedy recently had given his authorization for increased propaganda and sabotage operations against Cuba. It is most likely that the $75,000 grant for UM was related to the "further actions" that eventually culminated on April 16-17, 1961 [Check Bay of Pigs Chronology and Bohning's The Castro Obsession].

Interestingly, the University of Miami, specifically its Institute for Cuban and Cuban American Studies (ICCAS), presently continues to receive large federal grants supporting U.S. policy towards Cuba. Since its first $1 million grant in 2002, ICCAS has helped shape a hard-line policy towards Cuba, but most importantly helping formulate the Report of the Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba, which according to Adolfo Franco of USAID "used the [ICCAS] project’s materials extensively in preparing a 400-page report to President George Bush." Policy analyst Lars Schoultz described the report's goal of "hastening Cuba's transition" as an obvious euphemism for overthrowing the Cuban government.

How little things change.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Archives of the Miami News

Back in 2008, Google began a project to digitize old newspaper microfilm with the goal to present historic news articles online. (What a great idea.) And, recently I was happy to see that the archived microfilm of the now-defunct Miami News (first known as The Miami Metropolis) is now increasingly available.

I believe the Palm Beach Post has provided Google with the Miami News microfilm, and its been a virtual treasure to search through. I think I will start posting about some of the more interesting historical articles I find related to U.S. policy towards Cuba.

Above is a photo of Fidel Castro above an opinion column titled "We have no right to meddle in Cuba's internal affairs," dated January 18, 1959 and written by William "Bill" Baggs, editor of the Miami News. The article concludes:

"And, as declared in this comment, no one ever gave any citizen of the United States any right to reside over the domestic affairs of Cuba.

"And anyone who assumes the right, a Congressman or anyone else, is a foolish meddler in a nervous world."

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Beyond Politics II

Cuban athletes again impressed the world at the recent 2010 World Indoor Championships in Athletics at Doha, Qatar.

Cuba had big wins in the men's triple jump (silver and bronze) and the 60m hurdles (gold). Cuba ranked 6th in overall scores among the 27 nations that were awarded medals.

The photo above shows bronze medalist David Oliver (USA) and gold medalist Dayron Robles (Cuba) celebrating after the 60m hurdles competition. Robles finished with the third-fastest time ever recorded for the 60m hurdles (7.34 seconds). Silver medal went to Terrence Trammell (USA) who was just two-hundredths of a second behind Robles.

[Photo by AP]

Human Rights Watch on H.R. 4645

From José Miguel Vivanco, Executive Director of Human Rights Watch, Americas Division to the House Committee on Agriculture:

[Excerpts below]

Human Rights Watch fully supports the Travel Restriction Reform and Export Enhancement Act (H.R. 4645), which would remove obstacles to legal sales of US agricultural commodities to Cuba and abolish restrictions on travel to the island. We believe the proposed legislation, as well as similar legislation in the United States Senate (S. 1089), represents a necessary step towards ending a US policy that has failed for decades to have any impact whatsoever on improving human rights in Cuba.


The death in custody on February 23, 2010, of political prisoner Orlando Zapata Tamayo after an 85-day hunger strike served as a tragic reminder of the abuse suffered by those who dare to criticize the Castro government, and the lack of recourse for victims of repression. In the aftermath of Zapata's tragic death, some have argued that the US embargo policy should not be changed, or that restrictions on trade and travel should be tightened further. Human Rights Watch disagrees.


There is no question: the Cuban government bears full and exclusive responsibility for the abuses it commits. However, so long as the embargo remains in place, the Castro government will continue to manipulate US policy to cast itself as a Latin American David standing up to a US Goliath, a role it exploits skillfully. Ending the travel ban and removing obstacles to agricultural trade are steps in the right direction toward reforming this failed policy, and Congress should act swiftly to pass the Travel Restriction Reform and Export Enhancement Act.

[Full letter here]
[Human Rights Watch Report (November, 2009): "New Castro, Same Cuba"]

Monday, March 1, 2010

Postponed Cuba Conference [Updated]

Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart was very upset this afternoon on Radio Mambi. He called Ninoska Perez-Castellon and appeared on her 3pm show today telling listeners that the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce needs to apologize to Cuban exiles in Miami.

The Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce (GMCC) has a Cuba Committee that every year presents a report on trade possibilities with Cuba. Along with a report, it also conducts conferences about Cuba and related issues. Last year's report was a significant departure from earlier hard-line attitudes, and included trade possibilities with an unchanged Cuban government. Trading with Cuba they argued was "potentially perhaps one of the greatest if not the greatest economic opportunity that Miami has or will have." This year, the GMCC was planning to hold its Cuba Conference on March 16th. But, they recently had to postpone the date.

Today it seems Radio Mambi and Rep. Diaz-Balart found out about this event. Even though they were slightly satisfied that it was postponed, they found it appalling that such an event would occur at the Freedom Tower, and sponsored by Miami-Dade College. They saw the Cuba Conference as a great insult, and demanded explanations and an apology from the GMCC.

But, one of the scheduled speakers at the conference really bothered Perez-Castellon and Rep. Diaz-Balart: Martin Aragones, representing Sol Melia, the Spanish hotel chain that currently operates 24 resorts in Cuba. They see Sol Melia as an accomplice to human rights violations in Cuba.

Several other speakers were scheduled to appear at the Cuba Conference, including Florida Governor Charlie Christ, former Miami Mayor Manny Diaz, and former Governor Jeb Bush. Of course, these speakers got a pass from Radio Mambi because they are likely ignorant of what the Cuba Conference is all about. Sure.

According to the GMCC website, the Cuba Conference was postponed due to "scheduling issues by key presenters" and "will be restructured and held later this year." It will be interesting to see how this conference changes in the future.

--- [Update: 3/3/10] ---

One thing that had me wondering when I first heard about this event was the reason Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart was suddenly on Radio Mambi. Was this such an outrageous event that he was compelled to call his favorite AM station in Miami? Or is Radio Mambi at the beck and call to whatever is on the mind of Mario Diaz-Balart?

Rep. Diaz-Balart occasionally appears on Radio Mambi, but usually when he has lots to say, such as on U.S.-Cuba policy or other national issues. He rarely (if ever) appears for short periods to express his outrage over domestic issues in Miami.

But, I recently became aware of possible reasons this Cuba Conference was such a thorn in the side of Mario. It was so obvious.

Miami Dade College, sponsors of the GMCC Cuba Conference, depend on the Diaz-Balarts (and Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen) for crucial federal grants. For years (ever since Mario Diaz-Balart was Chairman of Florida's Senate Ways and Means Committee in the mid-90s) Eduardo J. Padron, President of Miami Dade College, has depended on Mario, Lincoln and Ileana for government funds.

Just last year, Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart presented Padron a $142,500 federal grant for the Kendall campus. It was only one part of federal appropriations obtained for the College, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen also obtained a $95,000 grant for the Medical Center Campus. Rep. Lincoln-Diaz-Balart helped too, obtaining a total of $900,000 for both the Hialeah Campus, and the historic Freedom Tower, which Miami Dade College now owns. Of course, there have been other ways these three Florida legislators have helped Eduardo J. Padron.

So, it seems clear why Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart suddenly called Radio Mambi to voice his outrage at the Cuba Conference (sponsored by Miami Dade College). It is also no surprise why he was demanding an explanation from Eduardo J. Padron, whose name was specifically mentioned:

Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart believes he has done a favor for Eduardo J. Padron, and therefore Miami Dade College should return the favor and grant him tacit allegiance to his hard-line attitude towards Cuba.

Looks like that federal grant came with baggage.

[Article on U.S.-Cuba trade possibilities]
[Tampa Chamber of Commerce cancels trip to Cuba]
[Photo above of the original title of the Cuba Conference]

Saturday, February 27, 2010


Above is a video that captures five interesting perspectives of Cuban-Americans in South Florida, and their reasons for not returning to Cuba. The video is directed by Jono Fisher, a professional photographer and video producer with family in South Florida, and recently intrigued with the idea of Cuban culture and the diaspora.

The video seems to be the beginning of a very promising project.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Second or Twelfth? [Updated]

A recent news release from the Cuba Archive, an online database that "records" human rights violation cases in Cuba, states that they have "documented eleven other cases of death by hunger strike in protest of prison conditions under the Castro regime."

The statement is at odds with several other news reports indicating that the death of Orlando Zapata Tamayo was only the second death of a political prisoner in Cuba due to a hunger strike. The first recognized as the death of Pedro Luis Boitel, dissident who died in Castillo del Principe prison in 1972. Even Elizardo Sanchez, dissident inside Cuba who keeps records of all political prisoners, says that Zapata Tamayo is only the second death of this type.

So I reviewed some of the files from the Cuba Archive. And I found poor or conflicting data.

- Miguel Lopez Santos' cause of death is recorded as "hunger strike" in the Cuba Archive database. The date of death is recorded as April 2001. The only source comes from a June 2001 article by the Center for a Free Cuba. Miguel Lopez Santos is also the name of a Cuban dissident that went on a hunger strike in April 2001 [source: U.S. 2001 report], but he didn't die. He was soon released from prison, but arrested again in May 2001 for "social dangerousness" [source: Directorio Democratico Cubano, PDF]. The name Miguel Lopez Santos continues to appear in recent reports as an active dissident inside Cuba.

- Nicolas Gonzalez Regueiro's cause of death is also recorded as "hunger strike" by the Cuba Archive database. The date of death was September 16, 1992. There are more sources in this case, but they conflict. One important conflict of data comes from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights which reported that Gonzalez Regueiro "died by hanging on September 16, 1992" [source: IACHR, 1992-93 report].

- And, the case of Santiago de Jesus Roche Valle, recorded as death due to "hunger strike" in 1985, also contains several conflicting sources in the Cuba Archive database.

The Cuba Archive should have warned everyone in their news release about the credibility of their "records." Only until you get to read the "Terms of Use" on their website does one begin to understand how reliable the Cuba Archive really is:

"Cuba Archive provides access to the information as a service to the users and does not take responsibility for such content. It cannot guarantee that any or all details contained in any case record or any of its other reports are true, accurate, or reliable... It is expected that users use caution and common sense and exercise proper judgment when using the material reported by Cuba Archive. Users acknowledge that any reliance on material posted via this website will be at their own risk."

Readers should always be cautious with reports about Cuban dissidents and prisoners. Confirmation of these sources neutralizes attempts to exaggerate and play politics with the victim.

[Update: Ninoska Perez-Castellon, radio host on Radio Mambi, today corrected the Cuba Archive list and said that Miguel Lopez Santos is still alive. The Cuba Archive has now erased that case file. Somebody is reading Mambi Watch.]

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Orlando Zapata Tamayo (1967-2010)

Today's Detour

There's a wonderful post by Tracy Eaton from Along the Malecon. It expands on a recent article by Juan O. Tamayo for El Nuevo Herald which reviews two books on the difficulties reporting inside Cuba. The Tamayo article is the typical negative story about Cuba, and not surprisingly recently used by Radio Mambi as part of their propaganda.

But, Eaton's post provides an important dimension which Juan O. Tomayo neglected to report:

"I've heard some say that if they had the chance to run a news bureau in Cuba, they'd write about nothing but human rights abuses and prison conditions until the Cuban government kicked them out. Then they'd make a heroic exit...

"But I wanted to write about Cuba over the long haul. I wanted to maintain relationships with Cubans of all political persuasions, from government officials and press spokesmen to activists who don't agree with the government. I also wanted to stay in touch with those who have had enough of the Castro brothers, including U.S. officials, diplomats and some Cuban-American activists...

"Cuba is a complicated place. I know that we journalists only cover a tiny fraction of what goes on. We skim the surface. We write about the people who have the most extreme views, but fail to talk to those in the middle. We write about blacks and whites, not the subtle tones of gray."

Full post here.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Dia del Exilio Cubano [Updated]

This morning Miami-Dade County Commissioner Rebeca Sosa will propose before the board a resolution [PDF] designating February 24th as "International Cuban Exile Day."

The idea for "Dia del Exilio Cubano" (which I translate as "Cuban exile community day") was conceived by the militant organization La Junta Patriotica Cubana (Cuban Patriotic Council) last month. The significance of February 24th is based on the day that the Cuban War of Independence (1895-98) began, which included Jose Marti as one of its leaders.

Coincidentally, a radio marathon begins today to collect funds for Luis Posada Carriles' trial beginning in El Paso, Texas next month. (According to Radio Mambi, the fund-raising was organized by Amadeo Lopez Castro, President of Intercontinental Bank in Miami.) Radio Mambi (WAQI 710 AM) and La Poderosa (WWFE 670AM) are providing listeners with a phone number to call (number is posted on the Univision/Radio Mambi website [screenshot]), and locations where listeners can go to leave checks and money orders. Locations include the Versailles Restaurant in Little Havana, the WWFE radio station, and Nuevos Horizontes, the Hialeah lodge of the Federation of Cuban Exile Masons.

This morning on Radio Mambi, Armando Perez-Roura talked about how Luis Posada Carriles is symbolic of the Cuban exile: his character of sacrifice to wage a cosmic battle against communism, only to be betrayed in the end by the rest of the world.

But, aside from praising the exploits of Posada, Perez-Roura also admires the life of being in perpetual conflict. He felt compelled this morning to quote Jose Marti saying:

"A sad thing it is to not have friends, but even sadder must it be not having any enemies; that a man should have no enemies is a sign that he has no talent to outshine others, nor character that inspires, nor valor that is feared, nor honor to be rumored, nor goods to be coveted, nor anything to be envied."

Meaning that if you have critics, then maybe you are doing something right. But, this also sounds like self-deception or making false attributions over one's own character.

[Update: The Miami-Dade Board of County Commissioners voted unanimously approving "Dia del Exilio Cubano" for February 24th, according to a report from Radio Mambi.]

[Photo of Cuban Mambises that fought the Spanish during the Cuban Wars of Independence]

[Along the Malecon has regular updates on the trial of Luis Posada Carriles]

Friday, February 12, 2010

Portuondo Show Cancelled [Updated]

The scheduled concert by Cuban singer Omara Portuondo for next month in Miami Beach has been cancelled.

The renowned Cuban singer, who won a Grammy Latin Award last November, was scheduled to perform at the Fillmore/Jackie Gleason Theater in Miami Beach on March 2nd. Yesterday, the blog Villa Granadillo announced (and celebrated) that they had received word from the City of Miami Beach that the show was canceled. The ticket website LiveNation also indicates that the show has been canceled.

There are no other details yet on the reasons for the cancellation. Portuondo has three other shows scheduled for this month in Washington D.C., Boston and New York.

Portuondo received harsh criticism last December when she performed at the closing ceremony of the ALBA Summit in Havana, Cuba.

[Update: Erik Maza from the Miami New Times blog confirms that the show was canceled due to slow ticket sales. The article includes the absurd reactions by some Cuban exile militants.]

[Video of Omara Portuondo being interrogated over her ALBA performance by local Spanish-language news AmeraTeVe as she arrives in Miami.]

[Photo by Reuters: Portuondo receives a Latin Grammy last November for Best Contemporary Tropical Album.]

Thursday, February 11, 2010


So why did Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart decide to finally end his political career in Florida's 21st Congressional District? I have yet to hear a rational answer.

This evening Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen was very busy, appearing on Radio Mambi's "Mesa Redonda" for two hours, and then appearing for an interview with Maria Elvira Salazar which aired at 8pm. Later, by 9pm, she reappeared on Radio Mambi with Marta Flores. She spoke about Rep. Diaz-Balart's announcement today, but failed to give a clear answer as to why Lincoln was leaving. Instead, her goal seemed to be to reassure everyone that support for U.S. policy towards Cuba was still secure in Congress.

Also on tonight's broadcast with Maria Elvira Salazar was Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (who will now run for Lincoln's seat), and Ana Carbonell, Lincoln's long-time Chief of Staff. Despite the host's attempts to probe for an answer, none gave in. All just repeated what Lincoln had announced earlier today: Lincoln decided that he would better serve the mission (or "la lucha") for a free Cuba as a private citizen. This explanation seems straightforward, but raises many questions.

It seems to imply that Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart felt he could no longer achieve anything more towards a free Cuba in Congress. (Could anymore be done after Helms-Burton?) It also implies then that Lincoln's ultimate goal in Congress was to influence U.S.-Cuba policy, while serving the other interests of his constituents was secondary, or not worth representing anymore.

Also, Lincoln could've stayed in Congress to achieve important positions like Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen who has been serving in Congress for over 20 years and now expected to become chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs. Lincoln was certainly in a safe Republican district, so why decide to leave it when he could have achieved more in Congress?

I think he did it for his brother Mario.

Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart is not in a safe Congressional district (FL-25). Since his first race in 2002, Mario's winning percentages have progressively decreased: 65% in 2002, 58% in 2006, and 53% in 2008 [source]. It was a dangerous trend. So, I figure that Lincoln sacrificed himself for his brother Mario, since the 21st district is much safer.

But, this is not a rational answer. It risks too much because Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart could still lose the district. An online poll by Telemundo51 today indicates that Mario is not favored as a replacement for Lincoln, 68% voting for "another candidate."

And, is Lincoln in a better position as a lobbyist, possibly working with the U.S. Cuba Democracy PAC? Lincoln is a firebrand, not really someone to work behind the scenes I think.

So far it all seems irrational. But, time will tell.

[Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart says he will continue working on a project called "The White Rose." It is a project started 50 years ago by his father, and outlines a comprehensive transition process for a free Cuba. It can be viewed here in Spanish.]