Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Marco Rubio's Speech at Unidad Cubana [Updated]

This past Sunday, Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida appeared at a public event hosted by Unidad Cubana, the militant/hard-line Cuban exile organization. Below is the speech he gave in Spanish. I will be translating portions of the speech into English and updating this post below.

Yet, there is one portion of the speech that was very interesting. Sen. Rubio at one moment seems to suggest that he has confidential information concerning changes coming to the Cuban government. At these kind of events, someone always says that change is coming soon to Cuba and it is implied that the change will come with the death of Fidel Castro. But, Sen. Rubio's remark about having secret information is much more interesting (though he has been known to lie). That audio is at 8:31...

"It's already been many years of everyone thinking 'Well, at any moment this has to change.' I know you've heard that many times. But I promise you, for reasons that I can't express publicly, the reality is that the moment is coming."


For those that don't know, Unidad Cubana was created in 1991 as a united front of several Cuban exile organizations to influence U.S. policy. Their main position was to reject the possibility of any softening of U.S. policy as Cuba was going through a difficult economic period. And, of course, preparing for an overthrow of the Cuban government.

According to El Nuevo Herald, Armando Perez-Roura (pictured above with Sen. Rubio, and current chairman of Unidad Cubana) said in 1991: "We in the exile community need to have our own political and military strategy because Castro must be removed from power." In that same article, it was reported that over 100 exile groups signed a joint agreement with Unidad Cubana, and that over 3000 people attended their inauguration event at the Miami-Dade County Auditorium, which was broadcast live on U.S.-funded Radio Marti*.

So, every October Unidad Cubana organizes an event remembering the "Great War" of 1868, and hosts speeches by distinguished guests that continue to push for a hard-line policy against the Cuban government. Previous guests have included Cuban-American legislators Lincoln Diaz-Balart, Mario Diaz-Balart and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen. And this year it was Sen. Marco Rubio's turn.

The essence of Sen. Rubio's speech centered on why he's taken a hard-line stance on policy toward Cuba, which is also based on his own "Cause for Freedom." According to Rubio, there are three basic reasons:

1) He supports the right of rebellion of people living under tyranny as written in the American Declaration of Independence;
2) He feels obligated to fulfill the "dreams" of the first wave of Cuban exiles because they suffered greatly due to the Cuban Revolution and "sacrificed" so much for his generation; and
3) He believes the U.S. government is obligated by principle to help Cuban exiles "free" Cuba.

In his speech, Sen. Rubio states that "if one studies six thousand years of recorded history" (which we assume Sen. Rubio has) one sees that "almost all people" throughout history have fought against tyranny, including the founders of the United States of America who expressed that right in the American Declaration of Independence, and also Cuba exiles at the Bay of Pigs. Sen. Rubio also states that the right to rebel comes from God, and that this historical battle against tyranny "will never end."

By suggesting that the right to rebel (or revolution) is God-given, and possibly an eternal human battle against tyranny (or evil), Sen. Rubio certainly reveals much about how he views events around the globe. It strikes me very similar to Cuban exile militants' war against global communism, or other battles that have been waged against some kind of global terror.

So, there should be no doubt that Sen. Rubio's "Cause for freedom" entails the "Cause for Cuba," and potentially other countries as well. As he explained, "if this country really believes these words [from the Declaration of Independence] then you have to apply them at every given opportunity, and for us [Cuban exiles] that opportunity exists 90 miles from our coast."

What other "opportunities" does Sen. Rubio see for his "Cause for Freedom."

[Photo by Arminda Espinosa and Libre Magazine]

*[El Nuevo Herald, July 13, 1991, "Cubanos Firman Acta de Unidad, Excluyen Dialogo" by Joel Gutierrez and Ivan Roman.]

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Welcome "On Two Shores"

Here's another new blog about Cuba and US policy: "On Two Shores."

They describe themselves as "a moderate, forward-thinking voice, from the heart of Miami, for Cuban Americans and Cubans in the diaspora." And their goal is "to represent the silent majority within our [Cuban?] community who believe that a change of policy vis-a-vis Cuba is long overdue, and to counteract the influence of the hardliners on both sides."

I'm not a fan of the profanity, but some of the posts are pretty good. For example check this one out titled "Leaving the Hardliners Behind" by William Vidal.

The editor is Alex Barreras, former blogger (with Giancarlo Sopo) from the now-defunct "Generation Miami" blog and "Stuck on the Palmetto" blog. He was born and raised in Cuba, so his insight about the country and our policy is enlightening.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Paul Ryan's Anti-Embargo Record

You've probably heard already. The Republican pick for vice-president, Rep. Paul Ryan (WI-1), has an anti-embargo voting record, and has been very clear about it. So, it's no wonder some hard-liners are trying to hide this fact.

A post on the (pro-embargo) Capitol Hill Cubans blog first raised my curiosity. It was apparent that the author was trying to hide Rep. Paul Ryan's voting record before 2007, and giving him an excuse by describing Rep. Ryan as an "unconditional free trader." (For hard-liners on Cuba, there is no room for other principles except unconditional sanctions.)

Even the boys at the Babalu blog did some quick work to hide Rep. Ryan's anti-embargo stance. Following the rumors that circulated on Friday, Humberto Fontova was the first to warn readers of Rep. Ryan's anti-embargo feelings. Fontova titled his post after a 2008 Ryan quote: "If we're going to have free trade with China, why not Cuba?"[cached link/screenshot] The post was soon removed. It was later responded with a post by Babalu economic super-genius Henry Louis Gomez who was an "economics major in college." According to Gomez, "99.9% of people" (including renowned libertarians like Milton Friedman and William F. Buckley who opposed the U.S. embargo towards Cuba) don't understand Cuba like he does.

In reality, national polling shows about 50% of Americans are opposed to the embargo (39% in favor, 10% undecided), so Gomez is being a little paranoid. But, it seems that Rep. Paul Ryan in 2002 was with the majority: 
"The embargo doesn't work. It is a failed policy. It was probably justified when the Soviet Union existed and posed a threat through Cuba. I think it's become more of a crutch for Castro to use to repress his people. All the problems he has, he blames the American embargo... [Cuban-Americans] have their reasons [for supporting the embargo] and they're very passionate about their reasons, I just don't agree with them and never have."
So, the question now is why did Rep. Ryan change his position on the embargo? Did a grown-man with strong free market convictions get "educated" on the embargo as Mauricio Claver-Carone told the Miami Herald?

I seriously doubt it.

--- [Below are Rep. Paul Ryan's House votes in opposition to the U.S. embargo on Cuba] ---
  • July 25, 2001: Amendment to prohibit funding to administer the Cuban Assets Control Regulations with respect to any travel or travel related transaction. Rep. Ryan (WI) voted Aye, [Roll Call 270, HR 2590].
  •  July 25, 2001: Amendment sought to prohibit the use of funds in the bill to implement, administer, or enforce the economic embargo of Cuba. Rep. Ryan (WI) voted Aye [Roll Call 271, HR 2590].
  • September 21, 2004: Amendment prohibits funds in the bill from being used to enforce certain regulations restricting family travel to Cuba. Rep. Ryan (WI) voted Aye [Roll Call 460, HR 5025].
  • September 22, 2004: An amendment to insert the following new section on page 166 after line 3: Sec. 647. None of the funds made available in this Act may be used to implement, administer, or enforce the economic embargo of Cuba, as defined in section 4(7) of the Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity (LIBERTAD) Act of 1996 (Public Law 104-114), except that the foregoing limitation does not apply to the administration of a tax tariff. Rep. Ryan (WI) voted Aye [Roll Call 461, HR 5025].
  • June 15, 2005: An amendment to prohibit use of funds in the bill to implement, administer, or enforce regulations relating to amendments made to the Code of Federal Regulations relating to license exemptions for gift parcels and humanitarian donations for Cuba. Rep. Ryan (WI) voted Aye [Roll Call 254, HR 2862].

Monday, July 23, 2012

Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas (1952 - 2012) [Updated]

According to reports from witnesses and family, Cuban dissident Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas died Sunday (July 22) afternoon in a car accident near the city of Bayamo. According to the Cuban website CubaDebate, the accident occurred around 1:50 p.m., 14 miles from Bayamo. Another passenger, Harold Cepero Escalante, died in the crash and two others survived.

As expected, there are already conflicting reports about the cause of the car accident. CubaDebate reports the car "lost control and crashed into a tree" based on eyewitnesses. But, according to Cuban blogger Yoani Sanchez, Paya's vehicle "was hit by another [car] and went off the road" according to witnesses. Oswaldo Payá's daughter, Rosa Maria, also makes the assertion that the car was intentionally hit based on "information we received from the young men who were traveling with [Payá]."

Investigations are currently underway.

In 2002, Oswaldo Payá became one of Cuba's best known dissidents when he led a petition campaign, the Varela Project, for political reforms and collected over 11,000 signatures. Days later, Jimmy Carter visited Cuba and mentioned the Varela Project during a nationally televised speech at the University of Havana. In 2003, the Varela Project was able to collect over 14,000 signatures in its continued campaign for political reforms.

In Miami, the Varela Project was rejected by Cuban exile militants and hard-liners who felt that petitioning within the legal system would create "a dangerous legitimation of the dictatorship." For some militants it was total betrayal. In its detail and character, the Varela Project also posed a philosophical challenge to post-Castro transition plans designed by Miami hard-liners who reject ideas of amnesty and forgiveness of past crimes.

Now, in response to Payá's death, many will debate where the Varela Project stands. In recent public comments, Cuban exile Marcelino Miyares has said that "the moment of the [Varela] Project has passed. I don't think it will have a resurrection."

--- [Update 1] ---

Recent reports reveal that Oswaldo Payá had been in another car accident last month in Havana. According to Oswaldo's brother Carlos, Oswaldo was riding in a van that flipped over after being hit by another car. Oswaldo suffered only bruises, and did not inform the international media out of prudence. Carlos is demanding an investigation to clarify what happened yesterday. On the other hand, Oswaldo Paya's widow, Ofelia Acevedo, is rejecting reports that Payá's car lost control, and believes that the car was intentionally attacked by another vehicle. She cites "friends" that have heard this information directly from the survivors of the car accident.

The two survivors of the car accident that killed Oswaldo Payá have been identified as Ángel Carromero and Jens Aron Modig, both associated with political organizations wishing to cooperate with Cuban dissidents. According to this report from Spain, Carromero was driving at the time of the accident, but was released from the Bayamo hospital with only a minor head injury. Carromero has been in contact with friends in Spain and being accompanied by Álvaro Kirpatrick, Spanish Consul in Havana. Carromero has already his eyewitness account to police in Cuba, but has yet to make public statements to the media.

Nevertheless, Spanish-language media is already presenting Oswaldo Payá's death as "premeditated." Telemundo 51 and Univision 23 both use the word "premeditated" in their reports to describe the car accident. On the radio today, Ramon Saul Sanchez described the car accident as part of a "gradual extermination" of Cuban dissidents. And Diario Las Americas today describes yesterday's tragedy as what "responsible people call a provoked accident."

An online poll conducted yesterday by Telemundo 51 showed that 93% of viewers (from over 200 votes) believe the death of Oswaldo Payá was "premeditated."

--- [Update 2] ---

The reported driver of the car which crashed on Sunday, killing Cuban dissident Oswaldo Payá, is still in the city of Bayamo and being questioned by police. According to recent reports, Ángel Carromero again has been questioned about the tragic accident and being kept in Bayamo until investigations are complete. He is still being accompanied by Álvaro Kirpatrick, Spanish Consul in Havana.

Interestingly, but not yet confirmed, a recent Univision article reports that Carromero "did not see a traffic sign to reduce speed. For that reason he lost control of the vehicle and fell by an incline." The local website Cafe Fuerte has also found two photos of the crashed vehicle that killed Payá and Harold Cepero. The damage looks like the car did indeed hit a tree near the back, killing both Payá and Cepero who reportedly sat in the back.

--- [Update 3] ---

A report from Reuters (Rosa Tania Valdes) cites "european diplomats" close to survivors of the crash confirming the crash was accidental: "The diplomats, who asked not to be identified, said it appeared the vehicle, traveling at well above the speed limit, hit a large pot hole, veered off the road and hit a tree." It also appears that the driver, Ángel Carromero, may also face criminal charges of reckless driving and involuntary manslaughter.

--- [Update 4] ---

On Friday (July 27), the Cuban Interior Ministry released an official statement (BBC/Miami Herald) concerning the car crash that killed Cuban dissidents Oswaldo Payá and Harold Cepero earlier this week. According to the statement, Ángel Carromero was driving the vehicle carrying Oswaldo Payá and Harold Cepero in the backseat. Another passenger, Jens Aron Modig, was sitting in the front passenger seat, asleep just before the accident. The car spun out of control after it suddenly stopped on top of an unpaved road under construction, hitting a tree and fatally injuring Payá and Cepero. It is suspected that the car was traveling over 70 mph.

The details of the crash were prepared by four experts in Cuba, each with over 8 years of experience in different fields. The statement provides the names of the experts and the Cuban eyewitnesses that provided statements to the police. The note ends stating that official investigations are still underway.

In response, the widow of Oswaldo Payá, Ofelia Acevedo, has rejected the official note and is demanding to speak with the survivors of the crash (who remain in Cuba while the investigation is underway), and a review of the evidence by independent experts in Cuba.

--- [Update 5] ---

On Monday (July 30), the Cuban government arranged a press conference allowing survivor of the crash Aron Modig to answer questions for the international press. Modig, who was asleep just before the accident, told reporters he had no recollection of a second vehicle involved in the crash. He also assured the press that his statements were sincere and would not change when he leaves Cuba. Modig explained that his goals inside Cuba were to help organize a youth-led version of Oswaldo Payá's Christian Liberation Movement. He planned to donate thousands of dollars to those dissidents. Modig later apologized saying he didn't know it was illegal to fund a dissident movement inside Cuba.

The press conference (edited video) also included a video presentation with recorded statements by Modig, Ángel Carromero, the other crash survivor, and a computer-generated reconstruction of the accident. In the video, Carromero stated that there was no second vehicle involved in the crash and that he had simply lost control of the vehicle after braking on a gravel section of an unfinished road. He also confirmed that Modig and himself planned to help organize a youth-led dissident movement, and visit dissidents with Payá in Santiago de Cuba. [Sources: Miami Herald/BBC/BBC Mundo (includes video)]

--- [Update 6] ---

On July 31, Ángel Carromero was officially charged with "homicide while driving a vehicle on public roads" and now faces one to ten years in prison. Meanwhile in Madrid, investigations found that Carromero had committed several traffic infractions (45 fines since March 2011, including 3 for speeding) and was notified last May that his license faced suspension. On August 9 his license was officially suspended.

The other survivor of the tragic accident, Aron Modig, gave his first interview since leaving Cuba to a Swedish newspaper. It was published on August 10 (Google English translation/Spanish translation), and reveals some important details of Modig's experience after the crash. Modig, clearly free from any form of persuasion, reiterated that he was asleep just before the accident and only remembers seeing the car out of control before he lost consciousness. Modig describes being regularly interrogated by Cuban police about his plans in Cuba (but not about the accident), and confined five days in a house where he was kept until his appearance before the international press. Modig was allowed to leave the country thereafter. Modig says he's very concerned about Ángel Carromero in Cuba.

In Spain, International Cooperation Secretary of State for Ibero-America Jesús Gracia Aldaz has publicly stated that he is optimistic in getting Carromero released from prison, and working with the Cuban government to achieve this despite "difficult" relations over the years.

[Official biography of Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas]

[Tracy Eaton from Along the Malecon blog interviewed Oswaldo Payá last year at length. It is here in Spanish.]

[Photo by Getty Images / Oswaldo Payá posing by a sculpture that represents the oppression of the Cuban people on December 13, 2002 in Havana.]

Monday, April 9, 2012

Punishing Ozzie Guillen for Being Himself [Updated]

Cuban exiles in Miami have every right to be offended by the remarks of Ozzie Guillen, but not the right to punish him and the Miami Marlins for it. If they truly are believers of human rights (and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights), then Cuban exiles should understand that punishing Guillen would constitute a violation (as interference) of his "right to freedom of opinion" (Article 19). Also, as devout Christians, Cuban exiles should accept Guillen's public apology, forgive him and withdraw any threat of sanction. If Guillen is punished for his personal opinions the example of hypocrisy would have negative effects for the entire Miami community. Instead, the Miami Marlins should take advantage of the moment and make extraordinary gestures to resolve several problems it already has with the entire Miami community since the construction of their new stadium in Little Havana.


In a recent interview with Time Magazine (Sean Gregory), Miami Marlins manager Ozzie Guillen made these remarks: "I love Fidel Castro... I respect Fidel Castro. You know why? A lot of people have wanted to kill Fidel Castro for the last 60 years, but that (expletive) is still here."

In Miami, any positive comment about Fidel Castro marks you for ostracism. This is mainly due to current U.S. policy that still characterize the leaders of the Cuban government as official enemies, a large Cuban exile community that has made their suffering at the hands of the Cuban government a core part of their collective identity and a local media that regularly presents negative stories and views about Cuba.

In some sectors of Miami, some are still at war with the Cuban government. And that means Fidel Castro is the worst enemy of all (guilty of worse crimes than Hitler according to Armando Perez-Roura of Radio Mambi). Therefore, to speak positively about Fidel Castro is a virtual crime for some in Miami. And, being offended is only the beginning.


The controversial comments by Ozzie Guillen were quickly noticed by the local Spanish media on Friday, but only today did local leaders react. While Miami Mayor Tomas Regalado has accepted Guillen's apology, other Cuban exile leaders, like Miami-Dade County Chairman Joe Martinez [PDF] and Miami City Commissioner Francis Suarez [PDF] have written letters demanding Guillen's resignation or removal as manager. The county mayor, Carlos Jimenez, has called for some action, but did not demand a resignation.

Concerning public opinion, local Spanish news station Univision 23 conducted an online poll showing a 58% majority (from over 300 votes) favoring some form of company sanction against Guillen, but not specifying the kind. (By comparison, an online poll from Chicago, Guillen's former home, showed 58% favoring no punishment at all.) And, a Miami Herald online poll found a majority of readers (56% from over 1000 votes) disagreed that Guillen should resign.


There are some who are willing to give Ozzie Guillen a second chance. One of them is Cuban exile and Baseball Hall of Fame announcer Felo Ramirez. Ramirez is the official voice of the Miami Marlins games heard on Radio Mambi and greatly admired throughout the community for his radio work. Last year, he was awarded with a street-naming near the construction of the new Miami Marlins Stadium.

And, today Ramirez revealed on Spanish-language radio ("Prohibido Callarse" show on WQBA) that he had personally forgiven Ozzie Guillen for his controversial comments and hoped that everyone would give Guillen a chance to explain himself (Univision23 report). Guillen will have that opportunity on Tuesday morning in a Miami press conference.

From another personal perspective, local sports reporter Will Manso (WPLG) writes that he has known Ozzie Guillen for years and is confident that "Guillen wasn't trying to say he was pro-Castro," as many in Miami are interpreting it. Manso also says: " I think when people see his sincere apology, this issue will die down and Guillen and the team can go on with the season."

Every person deserves forgiveness. At its foundation it assumes that every free person can change for the better, and therefore the act provides freedom and hope for all. But, if one is threatened with punishment for being offensive, then it assumes that freedom is conditional and that some people don't have the capacity to freely improve themselves.


If our local leaders consider the principles of human rights, their own personal religious beliefs, and of course the opinions of the public, then I see a good outcome: Guillen will be forgiven, the Miami Marlins will be given a chance to make amends, and community relations will improve.

Its an ideal scenario, and it could serve as an example for the future when the U.S. attempts reconciliation with Cuba. From another angle, Guillen's comments did provoke something that has been totally missed by the media: the many failed assassination attempts against Fidel Castro, some which included assassination attempts by the U.S. government during the 60s and should be considered violations of "basic constitutional principles" and "traditional American beliefs" (Jones, 2008). Failed U.S. operations during the 60s to overthrow the Cuban government also helped Fidel Castro present himself as an effective and morally superior revolutionary leader for years to come.

In a 2008 BBC report, one young Cuban rapper expressed that "Fidel is an idol for me." The article reported that "many [young Cubans] still respect [Fidel Castro] as the leader of the revolution and the man who has defied the United States time and again."

Americans and Cuban-Americans will have to confront these opinions at some point in the future. They won't be able to condemn or punish all of them as easily as Ozzie Guillen. These are Cubans expressing and being themselves. So how will they reconcile with those opinions? The result of Tuesday's press conference should give us an indication.

--- [Update] ---

Ozzie Guillen was given a 5-game suspension by the Miami Marlins (supported by Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig) and apologized several times before a Miami press conference Tuesday morning. You can listen to most of the event here. Response to English questions begin at the 10:30 mark.

Guillen partly blamed translation errors for his published controversial comments. In response to one question Guillen clearly denied saying "I love Fidel Castro." Another reporter brought up a 2008 interview where Guillen said "I admire [Fidel Castro]." Guillen responded today by saying "I don't admire him. How can I admire him?"

Guillen also mentioned that he met with some Cuban exile members before the press conference (members of the Ladies in White and the Cuban American National Foundation according to this report) where during their discussion Guillen received "advice" and "learned a little bit more about the Cuban regime." Guillen described how during their conversation he felt shame in front of them, unable to look directly into their eyes.

Near the end of the press conference Guillen concluded: "What I [think] is that [Fidel Castro is] a person that the whole world hates. Including me. And I hate him for the harm he has done towards many Latinos and many people of his country."

--- [Update 2] ---

Angel de Fana, one of the founding members of the Cuban exile organization Plantados, today revealed that he was one of the invited guests that had a private meeting with Ozzie Guillen before this morning's press conference. Appearing on the MegaTV political talk show "Tres Caras de la Moneda" (Three Sides of the Coin), Angel de Fana described a group of about 7 to 8 guest that had been invited to personally receive Guillen's apology. De Fana said he though Guillen's apology was sincere and then the group suggested a way for Guillen to possibly repair his relationship with Cuban exiles: become active with "la causa." Speaking out publicly about the Ladies in White and Cuban political prisoners were two examples mentioned.

In a related report by Telemundo51, Marilys Llanos interviewed another Cuban exile that was invited to personally meet with Ozzie Guillen this morning: Ladies in White member Maria Elena Alpizar. She told Telemundo51 that she forgave Guillen for his sincere apology, and described how the invited guests had advised Guillen to become more involved with Cuban exile groups. Specifically, after describing Guillen as a wealthy man, Elena Alpizar said that if Guillen helps out these groups monetarily, they would be willing to help out Guillen make amends within the exile community.

--- [Update 3] ---

Some other interesting articles and video over the suspension of Ozzie Guillen:

- "Can Miami Speak Freely on Castro?" by Fernando Peinado (BBC Mundo)

- USA Today article by Paul White; includes an online poll with over 7000 votes, and a three-way split over whether Guillen's remarks were fairly dealt with.

- Excellent points made by sports writer David Zirin in a Current television interview.

- El Show de Fernando Hidalgo on local Miami station AmericaTeVe performs a song calling for the "total suspension" of Ozzie Guillen.

--- [Update 4] ---

According to three online polls and one telephone survey by ESPN, the majority opinion after Ozzie Guillen's suspension is that the suspension was either too harsh or fair (above 60%). The minority opinion believes Guillen should be fired or suspended much longer. It's a stark contrast to what Miami leaders, like Commissioners Joe Martinez and Francis Suarez, the Hialeah City Council and the Latin Builders Association have demanded: Guillen's resignation. But its not surprising to see our political leaders not representing the voice of the people.

Here's a screen shot of the three online polls together. The first on the left is from the L.A. Times, the next one is from The Miami Herald and the last on the right is from the Radio Mambi (Univision Radio) website.

The ESPN phone survey is the most specific and informative. It found that "nearly two-thirds of Miami residents, and 56 percent of Cuban-Americans, think Guillen should keep his job."


Finally, it seems that El Mundo reporter Rui Ferreira managed to upload some videos of the morning protest in front of the Marlins Stadium. In one video, you can see how a supporter of Guillen's right to freedom of expression is harassed by anti-Guillen demonstrators as she leaves the stadium.

[Photo by Getty Images]

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Alan Gross: Stuck Between Havana and Washington

"Alan is a pawn from a failed policy between the two governments… two countries that don’t have diplomatic relations."

That's a recent quote from Judy Gross explaining why her husband, Alan Gross, is still jailed in Cuba for operating clandestinely as a USAID contractor inside the island. Alan Gross was sentenced to 15 years in jail last March, and his supporters are now hoping to win his release on humanitarian grounds.

Last December, Cuba experts William M. LeoGrande and Peter Kornbluh drew similar conclusions about the Gross case and explained that "the poisonous bilateral atmosphere between the two countries" is the "main obstacle to [Alan Gross'] release." But, despite the historical facts about US-Cuba relations, some still believe that stronger sanctions on Cuba can help free Alan Gross.

On the Capitol Hill Cubans blog you will notice two posts with identical titles: "How to Free American Hostages." The first one was posted March 1st and links to an op-ed originally written last December by a friend of Alan Gross. The author argues that since "neither the U.S. nor Cuba is willing to negotiate an exchange [between Gross and the Cuban Five]" Washington should threaten to cut off remittances and flights to Cuba and pressure the government to free Gross. The second post was posted March 8th and links to an op-ed by Otto Reich. Reich makes the same recommendations to threaten the Cuban government with, but argues that threats are effective because they worked in the case of NGO workers released from Egypt recently.

While the first post ignores the fact that restrictions on remittances and travel to Cuba from the U.S. has failed in the past, the second post from Otto Reich omits several important elements to the Egypt story. In fact, to compare Egypt and Cuba is astonishing and seems like a deliberate attempt at propaganda.

Aside from the HUGE differences in American diplomatic relations between Egypt and Cuba, threats alone didn't win the release of NGO workers in Egypt as Otto Reich argues. On the contrary, the threat from the U.S. to cut off $1.3 billion in military aid followed days of meetings between State department and Egyptian military officials in Washington, and preceded a Congressional delegation meeting with military leaders in Cairo. It is also likely that the threat was mostly political bluster since military aid to Egypt has averaged $2 billion annually since 1979 (even despite worsening human rights abuses which were ignored as conditions for aid during the Bush administration) and highly prized by U.S. military leaders.

Alan Gross is a victim, like many others, of the terrible relations between Havana and Washington. And, in this political climate you will always have hard-liners take advantage of the opportunity to push their terrible policies. And, they sometimes succeed. But, after half a century of the same policies, back and forth, it sometimes feels like you are trapped, like a victim yourself.

[Further details and updates about the Alan Gross case can be found on the Cuban Triangle blog.]

Friday, March 9, 2012

"Hooked" by Tijerón

[Time for a post from a reader of Mambi Watch*. Thanks to Tijerón for his submission which I found interesting to read as another listener of Radio Mambi. If anyone else would like to submit stories just e-mail me. It can be it critical or supportive of Spanish-language media in Miami covering Cuba.]

“Poor bastard.” I think that’s the closest translation in English. Ninoska Perez-Castellon on Radio Mambi likes to say “poor bastard” (pobre infeliz) a lot.

When she informs her Miami audience that a Cuban is waiting to receive construction material from the regime, or when discussing how doctors are exported to Venezuela for oil, or when sex-tourism, Cuban athletes or island godlessness are dissected, anyone living in Cuba is labeled a "poor bastard" if they are not fighting against Castro.

“Poor bastard.” It means their existence both saddens and offends her. Yet, she is far more offended than saddened since her solution for Cubans, other than US invasion, is to starve them until they successfully revolt or die. Anything perceived as compromise or conformity inside Cuba is intolerable. So, she labels them the way she pleases.

Ninoska’s views became clear to me one day when listening to her radio show. A caller who had recently arrived from Cuba had this to say:

"Why don't Cubans in Miami want to help us? You are against tourists coming here, against anyone who sends money to the island. We need help!"

Ninoska replied:

"Any money going to the island helps prolong the Castro-communist regime. You are a product of a system that degenerates the human spirit. The only way to free Cuba and Cubans is to cut the resources of the state."

When I first heard this I did not know what to make of it. Now, everyday the shock of Radio Mambi rivals reality TV and video games.

As a Latin American that has never before cared about Cuba, today I’m hooked on the biggest political battle local Hispanic media has to offer; where political ideology hammers mutual empathy and understanding daily.

[*Edited by Mambi Watch]

Friday, February 17, 2012

What Embargo? [Part 2]

Over the decades, countless arguments have been made for keeping the US embargo (e.g. Soviet threat, property nationalization, approaching success, violation of human rights). In Miami, no two defenders will have the same defense. And, asking "What embargo?" is not only an effective excuse from again defending a half-century of sanctions, but it also expresses widespread exhaustion and disappointment with the effectiveness of current policy. But, despite its accepted failure, embargo defenders still view the embargo as the fine line that protects the Cuban exile identity, the necessary line that divides friend and enemy.


I was listening to Nancy Perez Crespo on WWFE (670 AM) last week. She appeared shocked to see that Diario Las Americas, whose editors are hard-liners on Cuba policy, published an EFE article on the 50th Anniversary of the embargo which she thought was intolerable. She barely got halfway through reading the article on-air because she refused to accept the article's contention that economic reforms have been implemented in Cuba. "What reforms?," she asked. Maybe not the reforms that Perez Crespo had in mind. But, it seems, even to suggest any change in the cruelty of your enemy is unacceptable. God forbid the enemy does change and produces the need for a new strategy.

Upon the 50th anniversary, embargo defenders in Miami had to remind themselves why they should remain committed. One example came from Jesus Marzo Fernandez, former Cuban official who defected in 1996, and now a local "expert" on the Cuban economy (appearing countless times on Spanish-language TV and radio). Last week, Fernandez outlined chronologically why the US embargo was justified. Fernandez begins: "1960 - During this year 473 citizens were executed by firing squad, unprecedented in Cuban history." Interestingly, his chronology ends on October 24, 1960 when supposedly all American companies in Cuba have been nationalized. In fact, most of the dates in the timeline have to do with Cuban intervention and nationalization of foreign companies during the 60s, and therefore we can assume that Fernandez, like others in Miami, believe the embargo is justified because of these nationalizations (without fair compensation).

But, as usual, the timeline is incorrect and misleading.

There's no mention that both Washington and Havana did attempt to negotiate for fair compensation of future nationalized properties during 1959. But, the U.S. eventually rejected the compensation offer of 20-year bonds. (Of course, there were huge disagreements over what was "fair" compensation, such as the case of United Fruit properties which Cuba estimated at around $6 million, but the company wanted around $38 million!) By the time 1960 came around, negotiation attempts were replaced with escalating threats. And, as mentioned in the previous post, throughout the 60s the Eisenhower administration already had plans to overthrow the Cuban government with a covert war.

This is the context missing from Marzo Fernandez's chronology defending the embargo. In addition, his timeline has errors. According to Fernandez, on Jan. 3, 1960 "all phosphorous plants are confiscated." I assume he means sulphur plants, which the biggest one (Moa Bay Mining Co.) was intervened upon (not confiscated) in March 1960.

Also, Fernandez doesn't mention the accurate date the U.S. embargo began on (Oct. 19, 1960), and instead makes the chronology look like the embargo followed a long series of Cuban nationalizations. On the contrary, the Cuban government confiscated over 100 American companies in reaction to the Eisenhower embargo. (Interestingly, Moa Bay Mining Co. was not yet confiscated.)


Over the years, I've heard countless excuses on why the U.S. embargo towards Cuba should be kept. None make much sense to me, but that's because the embargo means something deeper than rational thinking. It's more about exile identity and its corresponding narrative of combating an eternal enemy. Recently, Jaime Suchlicki made it very clear (and revealing his militant side) in a recent op-ed for El Nuevo Herald, arguing that "[a]ll forms of struggle for liberty are legitimate. The last recourse of a defenseless and oppressed people is violence. Cuba is on that road. Let us hope the last sacrifice is coming soon."

Preserving the line between friend and enemy is something that draws hard-liners and militants together. And those voices are also our political leaders. As Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen once said on Radio Mambi: "[it's] not very difficult Ninoska. The intellectuals want to make it like - Oh, this is so difficult, you have to look at this as very complex. No, no, no. There are friends and there are enemies. Who's side are you on?"

In this world of eternal battle, who knows when intolerance, ignorance or violence may fall on either side.

Friday, February 10, 2012

What Embargo? [Part 1]

That's an often repeated line from callers and guests on Radio Mambi. The denial seems to be premised on the US being one of Cuba's top trading partners since 2000 when Congress allowed exceptions for agricultural exports (with several restrictions which you can look up here). In 2007, the US became Cuba's fifth-largest trading partner with approx. $582 million in agricultural sales (and approx. $710 million in 2008). In 2010, sales in food products dropped to approx. $410 million (seventh-largest trade partner with Cuba).

Of course the embargo exists (just ask the US-Cuba Democracy PAC), but, in Miami, hard-liners towards Cuba have grown incredibly frustrated defending the policy. The easiest way out of an argument is to say: "What embargo?" And, even the most adamant defenders of the policy know they don't have much to stand on. Let's take a look.


Lot of articles were written this week about the US embargo towards Cuba, and its 50th year in operation. But, the embargo actually began in 1960 under the Eisenhower administration when US exports were cut. You can see from the picture above (courtesy of The Miami News on Google Archives), the top headline is from 1960, and the bottom one is the Kennedy administration's ban on imports from Cuba in 1962 (good chronology of US sanctions on Cuba here [PDF]). This is an important distinction because the Eisenhower administration made the goals of economic sanctions against Cuba very clear. Last year, historian Robert S. McElvaine wrote this in his op-ed to the L.A. Times:
"Noting in a 1960 memorandum that 'the majority of Cubans support Castro,' Lester D. Mallory, deputy assistant secretary of State for inter-American affairs, argued that 'the only foreseeable means of alienating internal support is through disenchantment and disaffection based on economic dissatisfaction and hardship.' The objective, he wrote, was 'to decrease monetary and real wages, to bring about hunger, desperation and overthrow of government.'"
And, it was throughout the 60s that the US was secretly planning a covert war against Cuba. You can check this great chronology from the National Security Archive to get an idea of how extensive American plans were to overthrow the Cuban government (also good is "The Castro Obsession" by Don Bohning).


The above context is important, especially when you hear today about how "moral" it is to keep the US embargo. While it certainly won't topple the Cuban government today, the embargo is perceived in Cuba as a policy of aggression, as it was in 1960 and 1962.

So, last Tuesday our four Cuban-American representatives in Congress came out with their defense of the US embargo. According to Rep. Ros-Lehtinen, "the embargo is a moral stance against the brutal dictatorship. Over the last 50 years, the embargo has served as a constant form of solidarity with the Cuban people."

What Rep. Ros-Lehtinen really means when she says "moral stance" is to say that the embargo is a symbol of our confrontation against Cuba. A message that should be interpreted by the Cuban government as "we are enemies, not friends." (Nevermind the preamble of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights suggesting " it is essential to promote the development of friendly relations between nations.") Also, the embargo is not a "form of solidarity" with the people of Cuba. The majority of Cubans oppose the embargo (a 1994 poll inside Cuba found widespread opposition, and a 2006 poll showed Cubans highly favoring the US as an ideal trading partner.) Anyway, our foreign policy should not ignore the majority voice of Americans that oppose the US embargo.

Reps. Mario Diaz-Balart and Albio Sires make similar comments defending the embargo, but Rep. David Rivera seems to describe the need for expanding sanctions on Cuba because of their "Chavista and Mullah" allies. If we follow this logic, the US should expand their embargo to the rest of the western hemisphere.

Speaking of irrationality, let's not forget the other intransigents in Miami.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Wilman Villar Mendoza (1980-2012)

"Villar Mendoza was charged with 'contempt' (desacato) and sentenced to four years in prison in a hearing that lasted less than an hour, his wife told Human Rights Watch. While she was allowed to attend the trial, dissidents who tried to enter the courtroom were denied access. Villar Mendoza was not given the opportunity to speak in his defense, nor was he represented by a defense lawyer, she said. His wife said he initiated his hunger strike to protest his unjust trial and imprisonment."

[Video of demonstration that landed Villar in jail, courtesy of Directorio Cubano Democratico]

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Newt Gingrich Interview on Radio Mambi [Updated]

Republican Presidential candidate Newt Gingrich arrived in South Florida last Thursday just in time for an evening fundraiser in Coral Gables. The following day, Gingrich visited Little Havana where he pledged a hard-line policy towards Cuba in a written letter to Miami's most intransigent Cuban exile organization, Unidad Cubana. While Unidad Cubana seemed very pleased by Gingrich's promise, they were probably even more pleased that a Presidential candidate had actually endorsed such an extremist policy. The letter, undoubtedly written in Miami and not by Gingrich, has now raised policy expectations by the most hard-line in Little Havana.


Thursday's fundraiser was held at the luxurious Biltmore Hotel where Gingrich met up with Rep. David Rivera (FL-25) who, surprising some, is strongly endorsing and accompanied Gingrich while in Miami. Rep. Rivera was recently named one of the "most wanted corrupt politicians in Washington," and, according to Politico's Alex Isenstadt, accepting Rivera's endorsement shows Gingrich in a "scramble to put an organization in place" before the Florida primary. But, in Miami, Rivera is untouchable.

For years, David Rivera has been consistent with his hard-line policy towards Cuba (e.g. supporting 2006's Florida academic travel ban to terror-sponsoring nations like Cuba [now heading to the Supreme Court], proposing legislation to reform the Cuban adjustment act in order to punish Cubans in Miami who dare return to their homeland, and welcoming alleged criminals to Miami like Luis Posada Carriles). And, this is why Rivera still has many strong supporters in Miami, namely Cuban exile political leaders and other supporters of a "free Cuba."


Perhaps knowing that Newt Gingrich was "scrambling" for support in South Florida, hard-liners in Miami most likely saw an opportunity to raise the political stakes and asked Gingrich to accept their extremist positions on Cuba in exchange for the coveted Cuban-American vote.

Disguised as a letter written by Gingrich himself, the four points outlined describe traditional and recent frustrations from hard-line exiles in Miami. Keeping the U.S. embargo towards Cuba is standard, while full implementation of Helms-Burton has been a long-time grievance in Miami, but frustrated due to international pressure on Washington. Seeking criminal indictments of Fidel and Raul Castro was proposed by Rivera earlier this year, but has been part of the Cuban American National Foundation's policy recommendations for years, and a local project headed by Cuban exile militant Santiago Alvarez at least since 2010. And, reversing the Obama administration's relaxed travel restrictions for Cubans would be a tremendous relief for hard-liners who find it outrageously immoral to see Cubans traveling back and/or sending remittances to Cuba. (In reality, the new Obama travel policies are very popular in Miami, but hard-liners don't care.)


Before the interview on Friday morning, Newt Gingrich and David Rivera held a press conference inside the Univision Radio offices (Univision 23 report). Surrounded by the press, and various members of the hard-line Cuban exile community, Gingrich officially presented his so-called Cuba policy letter to Unidad Cubana, Miami's most intransigent Cuban exile organization. At the table, Gingrich sat next to Armando Perez-Roura, chairman of Unidad Cubana and programming director of Radio Mambi. Also nearby were members of Vigilia Mambisa, such as Laura Vianello and Miguel Saavedra.

Once ready inside the studio of Radio Mambi, Perez-Roura began by expressing his pleasure with the Gingrich pledge to fulfill the initiatives outlined in the letter. But, besides the outlined policy, Gingrich hardly had any other original ideas. Following his answer regarding Cuba travel restrictions, Gingrich added his idea of a "very aggressive public relations policy" which would include a "daily report" about human rights abuses and other violations by the Cuban government. The purpose of course would be to convince the world about the evil nature of the Cuban regime. But, I seriously doubt any country would use these reports to change their long-established relationships with Cuba.

When asked what he would do about the Alan P. Gross case, Gingrich gave no practical solution and instead suggested something similar to his "public relations policy" from before. Then, as if related in some way, Gingrich proposed implementing a "much more effective program" of intelligence and counter-intelligence "against pro-castro infiltrators." Of course, this is a nod to espionage cases like Ana Belen Montes and the Myers. But, with the U.S spending about $80 billion (!) on intelligence services, I'm confident that those agencies are doing just fine without Gingrich proposing a "more effective program" for them.


After leaving Miami, Gingrich's Cuba policy certainly lifted spirits and expectations, like that of Manuel Malgor. Besides being a member of AMCVA, Malgor is also active in other local political organizations that focus on Cuba, and he "couldn't find a single defect in what [Gingrich] said" concerning Cuba.

Armando Perez-Roura has told listeners that he now expects to receive a similar pledge from Mitt Romney upon his next visit to Little Havana. It will be very interesting to see how Romney's advisors can top the letter to Unidad Cubana. As a reminder, Perez-Roura has translated Gingrich's letter for the recent publication of Libre Magazine. (It is the only Spanish version since the Gingrich campaign forgot to translate it for their Spanish-language website.)

Little Havana is certainly looking forward to seeing Mitt Romney's Cuba policy.

[Newt Gingrich Interview on Radio Mambi]

Newt Gingrich Interview on Radio Mambi by Mambi Watch

Panama Ratifies Sentence Against Posada

I first heard this on Radio Mambi during today's noon news program. According to Spanish news agency EFE, the Second Appellate Court in Panama has ratified sentences imposed against Luis Posada Carriles and five other accomplices from 2004. The sentences stem from charges of "threatening public security and falsifying documents" after their arrest in Panama in 2000. This recent ruling paves the way to formally extradite Luis Posada Carriles to Panama. Armando Perez-Roura read the report on Radio Mambi and indicated forthcoming updates on mobilizing the community against the ruling.

Luis Posada was arrested in Panama in 2000 for what looked like another attempt to assassinate Fidel Castro. Posada and five others were found guilty on several charges. In April 2004, Posada was sentenced to eight years in prison for "threatening public security and falsifying documents." But, in August 2004, Posada was pardoned (along with his accomplices) by then-President Mireya Moscoso as she left office. The government of Cuba responded by cutting diplomatic ties with Panama.

The president that followed, Martin Torrijos, sought improved relations with Cuba (he traveled to Havana in 2005 to re-establish diplomatic ties) and his administration also attempted to rectify what it thought were corrupt practices during the Moscoso administration (recent Wikileaks cables described several complaints of bribery to the U.S. embassy).

In 2008, the pardons by Mireya Moscoso were targeted. Those who collaborated with pardoning Luis Posada Carriles were charged for abusing their authority, and in July 2008 Panama's Supreme Court overturned 182 pardons* granted by Moscoso, including Posada's.

This confirmation of Posada's sentence from 2004 opens the door for his possible extradition to Panama. Currently, Venezuela also has an extradition order for Posada related to his alleged involvement in the 1976 bombing of a Cuban civilian airplane, and other investigations related to torture as a Venezuelan intelligence officer. If granted, Panama would become the second country with an extradition order for Posada related to an act of terrorism.

According to the EFE report, Julio Berrios was identified as representing the plaintiffs in this case that confirmed Posada's sentence, and Rogelio Cruz was Posada's lawyer. (In case you didn't know, Berrios is one of Manuel Noriega's lawyers in Panama after Noriega's recent extradition from France.) And, according to Prensa Latina, Berrios will be joined by a grassroots organization called ULIP (Union de Lucha Integral del Pueblo) to file for an extradition order.

*[Wikileaks: Details of Pardon Revocation for Posada and 181 Others]

Friday, January 13, 2012

Archdiocese of Miami's Pilgrimage to Cuba

Miami Archbishop Thomas Wenski will be making a pilgrimage to Cuba for Pope Benedict XVI's trip to the island scheduled for late March, the Archdiocese said in a statement Thursday.

Benedict's trip, scheduled for March 26-28, will be the first by a pope since John Paul II's visit in 1998. It comes as Cuban Catholics celebrate the 400th anniversary of the discovery of the statue of the Virgin of Charity, patroness of Cuba.

[Video and story courtesy of NBC 6 Miami]

[Excerpt from the official statement by Archbishop Thomas Wenski from the Archdiocese of Miami]

"Why are we going? The Cuban bishops have said: 'The Cuban people are one – wherever they are'. The Pope is traveling to Cuba to honor Cuba’s patron saint, Our Lady of Charity, during the jubilee year of the 400th anniversary of her presence on the island nation. We travel in solidarity with the Church in Cuba – and in response to their invitation to share with them this historic event."